Wild bees are un­paid farmhands worth bil­lions: study

The China Post - - LIFE -

Wild bees pro­vide crop pol­li­na­tion ser­vices worth more than US$3,250 (2,880 eu­ros) per hectare per year, a study re­ported Tues­day.

Their value to the food sys­tem is “in the bil­lions, glob­ally,” its au­thors wrote in the jour­nal Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Over three years, re­searchers fol­lowed the ac­tiv­i­ties of nearly 74,000 bees from more than 780 species.

The team looked at 90 projects to mon­i­tor bee pol­li­na­tion at 1,394 crop fields around the world.

They found that on av­er­age, wild bees con­trib­ute US$3,251 per hectare (US$1,315 per acre) to crop pro­duc­tion, ahead of man­aged honey bee colonies, which were worth US$2,913 per hectare.

The probe adds to at­tempts to place a dol­lar fig­ure on “ecosys­tem ser­vices” — the nat­u­ral re­sources that feed us — to dis­cour­age en­vi­ron­men­tal plun­der­ing.

Amaz­ingly, two per­cent of wild bee species, the most com­mon types, fer­til­ize about 80 per­cent of bee-pol­li­nated crops world­wide, the team found.

The rest, while cru­cial for the ecosys­tem, are less so for agri­cul­ture — so con­ser­va­tion­ists may un­der­mine their own ar­gu­ment by pro­mot­ing a purely eco­nomic ar­gu­ment for the pro­tec­tion of bee bio­di­ver­sity, the au­thors said.

“Rare and threat­ened species may play a less sig­nif­i­cant role eco­nom­i­cally than com­mon species, but this does not mean their pro­tec­tion is less im­por­tant,” said David Kleijn, a pro­fes­sor at Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity in the Nether­lands, who led the study.

A healthy di­ver­sity of bee species is es­sen­tial, given ma­jor fluc­tu­a­tions in pop­u­la­tions, he added.

Honey bees in many parts of the world are suf­fer­ing a cat­a­strophic de­cline, var­i­ously blamed on pes­ti­cides, mites, viruses or fun­gus.

Last month, U.S. watch­dogs re­ported that U.S. bee­keep­ers lost 42 per­cent of their colonies from the pre­vi­ous year, a level deemed too high to be sus­tain­able.

“This study shows us that wild bees pro­vide enor­mous eco­nomic ben­e­fits, but reaf­firms that the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for pro­tect­ing species can­not al­ways be eco­nomic,” said co-au­thor Tay­lor Rick­etts of the Univer­sity of Ver­mont.

“We still have to agree that pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­sity is the right thing to do.”

Busy Bees

Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO), about 80 per­cent of flow­er­ing plant species are pol- linated by in­sects, as well as by birds and bats.

At least one third of the world’s agri­cul­tural crops de­pend on these un­paid work­ers, the U.N. agency says on its web­site.

Crops which re­quire pol­li­na­tion in­clude cof­fee, co­coa and many fruit and veg­etable types.

The eco­nomic value of pol­li­na­tion was es­ti­mated in a 2005 study at 153 bil­lion eu­ros, ac­count­ing for 9.5 per­cent of farm pro­duc­tion for hu­man food.

Com­men­ta­tors not in­volved in the study said it may play an in­valu­able part of the cam­paign to save bees.

“Cru­cially, the com­mon­est wild bees are the most im­por­tant, which gives us the ‘win-win’ sit­u­a­tion where rel­a­tively cheap and easy con­ser­va­tion mea­sures can sup­port these and give max­i­mum ben­e­fit for the crops,” said Pat Willmer, a pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Scot­land’s Univer­sity of St An­drews.

“For ex­am­ple, plant­ing wild flow­ers with wider grassy mar­gins around crops, as well as less in­ten­sive or more or­ganic farm­ing, all en­hance abun­dance of the key crop- vis­it­ing bees,” he told Bri­tain’s Science Media Cen­tre (SMC).

AP

1. In­dian Mus­lim stu­dents prac­tice yoga at a school ahead of the first In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day in Ah­mad­abad, In­dia, Wed­nes­day, June 17. The United Na­tions has de­clared that June 21 will be ob­served as the In­ter­na­tional Day of Yoga. 2. In­dian Mus­lim stu­dents pray be­fore they prac­tice yoga at a school ahead of the first In­ter­na­tional Yoga Day in Ah­mad­abad, Wed­nes­day. 3. An In­dian Mus­lim man per­forms Yoga ex­er­cises at a gar­den in Ah­mad­abad, Sun­day, June 14.

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