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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs