Friday, March 1, 2013

Wild Pollinators More Effective Than Honeybees

Global Agriculture

Starting the Honey-Making Process: A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts nectar from
an Aster flower using its proboscis. Tiny hairs covering the bee's body maintain a slight electrostatic
charge, causing pollen from the flower's anthers to stick to the bee, allowing for pollination when
the bee moves on to another flower.
Photo Credit: John Severns, 2007

Much has been written about colony collapse disorder in the last few years. An article, by Damian Carrington, in The Guardian reports, however, that wild pollinators, such as wild bees, are more than twice as effective in agricultural production than honeybees.
The decline of wild bees and other pollinators may be an even more alarming threat to crop yields than the loss of honeybees, a worldwide study suggests, revealing the irreplaceable contribution of wild insects to global food production.
Scientists studied the pollination of more than 40 crops in 600 fields across every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops including oilseed rape, coffee, onions, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries. Furthermore, trucking in managed honeybee hives did not replace wild pollination when that was lost, but only added to the pollination that took place.
"It was astonishing; the result was so consistent and clear," said Lucas Garibaldi, at the National University in Río Negro, Argentina, who led the 46-strong scientific team. "We know wild insects are declining so we need to start focusing on them. Without such changes, the ongoing loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide."
Pollination is needed for about three-quarters of global food crops. The decline of honeybee colonies due to disease and pesticides has prompted serious concern. Jason Tylianakis, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, described them as "the species charged with protecting global food security". 
The new research shows for the first time the huge contribution of wild insects and shows honeybees cannot replace the wild insects lost as their habitat is destroyed. Garibaldi said relying on honeybees was a "highly risky strategy" because disease can sweep through single species, as has been seen with the varroa mite, and single species cannot adapt to environmental changes nearly as well as a group of wild pollinators.
"The studies show conclusively that biodiversity has a direct measurable value for food production and that a few managed species cannot compensate for the biodiversity on which we depend," said Tylianakis, who was not part of the research team.
This is good science, researching and reporting on issues that affect humanity. Managed honeybees, trucked in to farm sites, are now the norm, but these bees cannot completely and effectively replace the wild pollinators. That wild pollinators are in decline in much of the world ought to concern us if we care about food production.

It's true that the insect world is generally resilient, and can cope with changes to their habitats, but it remains to be seen whether they can adapt so quickly. One possible solution is to set aside natural land surrounding the large agricultural sites, which would provide a constant food source for wild bees and other pollinators.


You can read the rest of the article at [The Guardian]

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