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Food Supplies Threatened by Bee Declines

Pollinator species worldwide are under threat of extinction due to human activity, according to a new report. (Andrea Westmoreland/Wikimedia Commons)
Pollinator species worldwide are under threat of extinction due to human activity, according to a new report. (Andrea Westmoreland/Wikimedia Commons)
March 9, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wy. - A growing number of pollinator species, including bees, are being driven toward extinction. That's according to an independent intergovernmental body tasked with assessing the planet's biodiversity.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biology professor at UC Berkeley, says more than three-quarters of the world's food crops depend on pollination by bees or other animals.

"Bees are in trouble, both our managed honeybees and also the wild bees that are very important for our crop pollination, and humans are involved," says Kremen. "Partly it's how we manage our lands and it's the pesticides that we use."

The two-year study found globally, pollinators help produce up to $577 billion worth of food annually.

Kremen says the good news is that declines can be reversed by reducing pesticides, diversifying crop production, and planting flowers bees need to survive.

Kremen adds, neonicotinoid pesticides, used heavily on plants that bees pollinate, cause chronic effects in pollinators.

The controversial insecticide is banned in Europe, but continues to be widely used in the U.S.

"It is a neuroactive pesticide," says Kremen. "And it influences the ability of bees to navigate, to forage and to get back to their hives successfully."

Kremen says neonicotinoids also compromise bees' immune systems, and is an active ingredient in many pesticides sold to household gardeners.

She says the same prescription to protect bees also can help people.

She points to farming techniques that draw in birds and other natural predators to pick off pests currently targeted with toxic chemicals.

"Can we make the agriculture more sustainable in general, and in doing so make it a more favorable environment for bees," says Kremen. "Well, yes we can."

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY