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Bees disappearing in 139 counties in key agricultural U.S. regions

Staff Writer |
The first-ever study to map U.S. wild bees suggests they are disappearing in the country's most important farmlands.

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If wild bee declines continue, it could hurt U.S. crop production and farmers' costs, said Taylor Ricketts, a conservation ecologist at the University of Vermont, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (BeesS) annual meeting panel, Plan Bee: Pollinators, Food Production and U.S. Policy.

"This study provides the first national picture of wild bees and their impacts on pollination," said Ricketts, Director of UVM's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, noting that each year $3 billion of the U.S. economy depends on pollination from native pollinators like wild bees.

At BeesS, Ricketts briefed scholars, policy makers, and journalists on how the national bee map, first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in late 2015, can help to protect wild bees and pinpoint habitat restoration efforts.

At the event, Ricketts also introduced a new mobile app that he is co-developing to help farmers upgrade their farms to better support wild bees.

"Wild bees are a precious natural resource we should celebrate and protect," said Ricketts, Gund Professor in UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

"If managed with care, they can help us continue to produce billions of dollars in agricultural income and a wonderful diversity of nutritious food."

The map identifies 139 counties in key agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas, and Mississippi River valley, which appear to have most worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand.

These counties tend to be places that grow specialty crops—like almonds, blueberries and apples—that are highly dependent on pollinators. Or they are counties that grow less dependent crops—like soybeans, canola and cotton—in very large quantities.

Of particular concern, some crops most dependent on pollinators—including pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries—appeared to have the strongest pollination mismatch, growing in areas with dropping wild bee supply and increasing in pollination demand.


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