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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown May Be Extended

Lockdown, which started Friday, aims to allow health workers to locate hidden Ebola patients, educate others on how to avoid the deadly disease More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
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.


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