Why are bees in decline? New research to provide the answers

| 22nd June 2010
A bumblebee

Research will look at some of the reasons behind the decline of wild pollinators like bumblebees

Nine new studies will look at the role of pesticides, habitat loss and disease in the decline of insect pollinators like the honeybee and bumblebee

Are pesticides contributing to the collapse of honeybee and wild bumblebee populations? Is habitat loss taking away their sources of food? And exactly what role do these insects play in pollinating our crops?

Campaigners have argued for a number of years about the decline and importance of bees and other pollinators like butterflies, hoverflies and moths to our plant diversity and food crops.

Now nine projects, funded as part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI), will begin research into both their role and the reasons for their decline.

Scientists estimate that the pollination service they provide is worth £440m a year to UK farmers with everything from strawberries to onions benefiting from the insects.

Wider ecosystem

As well as the benefit to food crops, scientists say insect pollinators are a 'pivotal' part of the whole biological system.

'Wild plants rely on these insects to pollinate them and these plants are in turn relied upon to feed a large number of other species, like birds and other insects. These plants also provide other natural ecosystem services like promoting fertile soil', said Dr Simon Potts from Reading University, which is involved in one of the newly announced studies.

Dr Potts said there was a wide acceptance amongst scientists that the main culprits for the decline in bees and other insect pollinators were: habitat loss, pesticides, pests and diseases. 'Each of them is making the other one have a bigger impact,' he added.

Wild pollinators

Although high honeybee population losses have received a lot of public attention only one of the studies will look specifically at reasons for their decline - a study into the impact of the Varroa mite pest.

The other studies will look more generally at bees and all insect pollinators. Dr Potts said this was right as wild pollinators were estimated to be doing around two-thirds of the pollination of the UK's crops.

'Honeybees have had the limelight but what is emerging is that wild pollinators do much of the work. Also it is risky for us to rely on a single species, the honeybee, for all our pollination. Wild bee populations are more diverse so are less at risk from a single disease wiping them out,' said Dr Potts.

Useful links

Full details on the nine projects that received funding

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