21 November 2007

No Bees No Fruits

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Scientists achieved an alarming result: pollinators and insect-pollinated plants in Britain and the Netherlands are declining, while the number of wild bees dramatically increases

Scientists of the European research project ALARM (Assessing LArge scale Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods) achieved an alarming result: pollinators and insect-pollinated plants in Britain and the Netherlands are declining in parallel. After comparing data from the last century the conclusion was that the number of wild bees dramatically decreased in the Netherlands and in the UK, and increased in very few landscapes. The red list of bees is growing longer and longer worldwide.

Securing the future of pollinating insects such as wild bees is vital. The European research project ALARM dedicated one research module with nine partners to the topic of pollinator loss. A team of experts around biologist Dr. Koos Biesmeijer and Dr. Bill Kunin from the University of Leeds examined pollinator and plant data, collected by professionals, volunteer researchers and naturalists in Great Britain and the Netherlands. Comparing these records with data since 1980 the results showed a consistently decline in bee diversity in both countries. Wild bees which have specialised habitat needs and pollinate a limited range of flower species were most often at risk or actually lost. This pattern seems to repeat itself across the European Union.

The reasons for the decline are various and super-imposed. Climate Change, land use change, the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the agricultural sector and industrialization are the most likely culprits.

Worldwide there are more than 20.000 known wild bees and 75% of the leading types of fruits, nuts and wild plants depend on pollination by insects. The economic value of pollination worldwide is estimated at 30 to 60 billion euro a year. Certainly some plants can also get by with the pollination of other insects but the latest findings of the ALARM-team show that there is a tight connection between local extinctions of functionally linked plant and bees. By contrast species that rely on a broader range of other species within a community are more robust and have increased.

To avoid future loss of plant and pollinator species on it is essential that new habitats are established. Natural growing gardens with wild flowers, decaying branches and sandy areas offer wild bees and other insects ideal nesting and feeding spaces and also agri-environment schemes like clover field margins around fields help a lot.

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