Bee de­cline could push up food costs: re­searcher

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - OPINION - TOM MOR­RI­SON

Sev­eral fac­tors - from pes­ti­cide use to cli­mate change - are caus­ing pop­u­la­tions of bees and other pol­li­na­tors to de­cline, says a re­searcher with the Univer­sity of Guelph.

Nigel Raine, the Re­banks Fam­ily Chair in pol­li­na­tor con­ser­va­tion in­side the univer­sity’s School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, said peo­ple should care about pol­li­na­tor de­cline, first and fore­most, be­cause it has an im­pact on agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

“About one in three mouth­fuls of food that we con­sume are de­pen­dent on the pol­li­na­tion ser­vices of in­sect pol­li­na­tors,” he said dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the South West Agri­cul­tural Con­fer­ence last week in Ridgetown, Ont.

“When we have ex­cel­lent lev­els of pol­li­na­tion, we have abun­dant di­ver­sity of healthy, nu­tri­tious foods - lots and lots of fruits, veg­eta­bles and nuts -and also pro­duc­tion of other food that goes into feed­stock for live­stock, as well.”

Raine said that, if pol­li­na­tor de­cline con­tin­ues on its cur­rent trend, food prices could “sky­rocket,” es­pe­cially with some world pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates ex­ceed­ing nine bil­lion peo­ple by 2050.

Pol­li­na­tor de­cline also af­fects the bio­di­ver­sity of plants as about 90 per cent of flow­er­ing plants rely on some sort of pol­li­na­tion, he said.

Raine said that the is­sue is im­por­tant to south­ern On­tario be­cause about 420 of the 855 species of pol­li­na­tors in Canada call it their home.

Some bee species have de­clined by 96 per cent, though oth­ers are still com­mon, said Raine.

Canada, for ex­am­ple, hasn’t seen the rusty patch bum­ble­bee for 10 years after it was last spot­ted in Pin­ery Pro­vin­cial Park, near Grand Bend, he said.

Raine said that, in his lab, he has looked at the ef­fect in­sec­ti­cides have had on cer­tain species of bees.

He has found im­pacts on their nav­i­ga­tion, abil­ity to find their hive, the flower choices made by bum­ble­bees, their learn­ing per­for­mance and their abil­ity to make pollen based on low level ex­po­sure to th­ese chem­i­cals.

“We see in bum­ble­bees that low lev­els of ex­po­sure can af­fect the like­li­hood of a queen to set up a colony at the be­gin­ning of the spring,” he said.

“They can af­fect the re­pro­duc­tive out­put of colonies, the num­ber of queens and males that are pro­duced and the suc­cess of which they mate.”

Ap­ples ex­posed to low lev­els of pes­ti­cides can also af­fect the suc­cess of pol­li­na­tion of those ap­ples, Raine added.

Although he said th­ese are “rel­a­tively sub­tle ef­fects,” th­ese changes in be­haviour “may be af­fect­ing pol­li­na­tion ser­vices rel­a­tively widely.”

As well, Raine said an in­crease in the av­er­age April tem­per­a­ture over the last 40 years has been as­so­ci­ated with an ear­lier emer­gence of cer­tain bee species.

He said re­search has shown but­ter­flies are ex­pect­edly mov- ing north­ward to stay within their “ther­mal zone,” but bee species are not do­ing the same. And those bees at the south­ern part of their geo­graph­i­cal zone are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sig­nif­i­cant losses.

“We seem to be see­ing their ranges be­ing com­pressed and they may be strug­gling to adapt as quickly as we thought they would to cli­mate change,” said Raine.

“What’s hap­pen­ing to other pol­li­na­tors, we really don’t know, be­cause we don’t have good enough data to look at that yet.”

He said a re­cent re­port showed about four per cent of bees are at risk of ex­tinc­tion. But more than 1,000 bee species are con­sid­ered “data de­fi­cient,” mean­ing sci­en­tists can’t say how their num­bers are de­clin­ing or im­prov­ing, he said.

One way to stem the de­cline of pol­li­na­tors is to sup­port their habi­tats, he said, not­ing that such a move takes care­ful con­sid­er­a­tions.

“We need to know which flow­ers we need to pro­vide for them to pro­vide the nec­tar and pollen they need,” he said, adding the dis­tances be­tween th­ese flow­ers and nest­ing sites also must be con­sid­ered.

Habi­tat degra­da­tion it­self is an­other cause of bee de­cline, said Raine, as well as ex­po­sure to pathogens and in­va­sive species.


Nigel Raine is the Re­banks Fam­ily Chair in pol­li­na­tor con­ser­va­tion at the Univer­sity of Guelph.

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