News / Science & Technology

Insect Pollinators Face Interlocking Threats

Insects help pollinate 75 percent of crop species and over 90 percent of wild flowering plants. (Creative Commons)
Insects help pollinate 75 percent of crop species and over 90 percent of wild flowering plants. (Creative Commons)
Rosanne Skirble
The global decline of honey bees and other pollinating insects is caused by multiple, largely human-induced effects, according to a new study.

Over the past decade, scientists have been reporting steady and mysterious declines in the populations of so-called pollinator insects. 

These include the honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths that help pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops, services worth $200 billion annually to the global economy.

The new report is the first to pull together years of research on pollinator species decline. Forty scientists from six countries worked on the project organized by the Insect Pollinators Initiative of the United Kingdom (IPI).

While no single factor is responsible for the population decline, the analysis finds intensive land use, climate change and the spread of alien species and disease, are among the major threats to pollinating insects.

  • Bumble bees are in decline around the world due to agricultural pesticide use, disease, and human encroachments on their habitats. (Photo: Claire Carvell)
  • Across the temperate regions of the world, bumble bees are crucial pollinators of wild flowers, transferring pollen and helping to ensure genetically diverse plant populations.  (Photo: Adam Vanbergen)
  • Honey bees, managed for honey production and crop pollination services, are threatened by parasites and fungal and viral pathogens, and by the effects of land-use intensification. (Photo: Eugene Ryabov)
  • Certain bumble bee species and some solitary bee species are increasingly being domesticated and managed by humans to provide pollination services for agricultural crops like apples or strawberries. (Photo: Claire Carvell)
  • Pollination of wildflowers and crops is done by a huge variety of insect species including social honey and bumble bees, solitary bees, wasps, flies, beetles and moths. Their diversity helps ensure the healthy function of ecosystems. (Photo: Adam Vanbergen)
  • Hoverflies, like bees, help pollinate food crops and wild plants and face multiple threats. (Photo: Adam Vanbergen)
  • The Varroa mite is a major threat to honey bee colonies. It feeds on the 'blood' of the insects and in the process transmits many different types of harmful virus. (Photo: Eugene Ryabov)
  • Wild habitat networks in intensively farmed landscapes help to provide the food and nesting resources, which sustain pollinator populations and buffer them against disease and climate change. (Photo: Claire Carvell)
  • Flies forage widely across landscapes and may provide a substantial pollination service to wild plants and crops. Compared to bees, however, they are poorly studied. (Photo: Adam Vanbergen)
  • Wildlife biologists, working with colleagues from disciplines as diverse as mathematics, neuroscience, molecular biology, epidemiology and economics are studying the causes and consequences of insect pollinator decline and what we can do to arrest this loss of beneficial biodiversity. (Photo: Claire Carvell)
  • In some regionsof the world, bee farmers often must transport their bee hives long distances to supply economically important pollination services to agricultural crops like fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Eugene Ryabov)
  • Bumble bees live in a colony with a queen bee that produces the offspring. Lack of flowers in the nest vicinity and exposure to pesticides threatens the colony's ability to feed their young and produce new queens. (Photo: Matthias Furst)
  • Beekeepers in Sofia, Bulgaria, hold an Earth Day protest demanding the suspension of the usage of neonicotinoid pesticides linked to the death of bees worldwide. (Photo: Reuters)
  • A new laboratory was established in Jordan to protect bees from infectious diseases following an outbreak that decimated nearly half of the region's bee hives in 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

"What we are beginning to see is that it’s likely that there’s a combination of these effects that are driving the declines in these insects and in some cases they may be combining in subtle ways that exacerbate the overall negative effect,” said Adam Vanbergen, an ecologist with the Britain-based Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who served as the science coordinator on the IPI-led review. 

Vanbergen says more research must be done on this complex interplay, across a vast scale, from genetics to worldwide ecosystems.

“We need to launch a whole suite of studies looking at subtle interactions between, say, land use change and its impacts on the resources that insects rely on, and how that can effect interactions with disease organisms or with exposure to pesticides that would be one example,” he said.
Pollinator Decline
Pollinator Declinei
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The ecologist says there is also a need to carefully document how climate change affects the insects’ ability to adapt to a warmer world.

“There is evidence now accumulating that impacts from these different pressures hits insects at different levels of biological organization," Vanbergen said. "So you have some pressures that will be damaging, for example, the brain function of individual insects and you have other pressures that will be perhaps affecting the ability of species to move in landscapes or indeed their range across continents.”

Learning how to protect pollinators from these environmental pressures will require a multi-disciplinary scientific effort. Farmers, policy makers, and industry will need to collaborate on programs to conserve these species. 

“We need to come together really to try and set the appropriate framework to enable strategic planning at a landscape scale," said Vanbergen. "That’s going to be important if we are going to devise the appropriate habitat network to help support these insects in order to buffer them against effects such as climate change and local effects such as pesticide impacts.” 

The IPI analysis also calls for re-evaluating common pesticide risks and developing new treatments for insect disease.

“All we really need to do is just try to build a more sympathetic approach to integrate practices that are able to lessen some of these impacts and to support the biodiversity that provides these important ecosystem services to human kind,” said Vanbergen.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

China to Invest $20 billion In India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high profile visit More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid