Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues
Without bees, future generations may not be able to identify with adages like, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
Crop yields for key crops like apples, cherries and blueberries are down across the U.S. because of a lack of bees in agricultural areas, a Rutgers University-led study published Wednesday in The Royal Society found. This could have "serious ramifications" for global food security, reported The Guardian.
The scientists wanted to understand the degree to which insect pollination, or lack thereof, actually limits current crop production. Surveying 131 locations across major crop-producing areas of the U.S., they found that five out of seven crops showed evidence of "pollinator limitation" and that yields could be boosted with full pollination, the study said.
"The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production," said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert and the senior author of the paper, reported The Guardian. "I was surprised, I didn't expect they would be limited to this extent."
The research further noted that pollinator declines could "translate directly" to decreased production of most of the crops studied and that wild bees "contribute substantially" to the pollination of most studied crops.
Declines in both managed honeybees and wild bees raise serious concerns about global food security, the study said, because most of the world's crops rely on pollinators.
Bees and other pollinators like bats and birds underpin the global food system, but their populations are dwindling due to human activity including settlement building, pesticide use, monoculture farming and climate change. This is part of what many are calling the "insect apocalypse," a precipitous decline in insects across the globe.
Wild bees, in particular, suffer from loss of flowering habitat, toxic pesticide use, and climate change, The Guardian reported, and managed honeybees have fallen to disease. Overall, three-quarters of the world's food crops are dependent up pollinators and could falter due to lack of bees, the news report added.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, crop production has increasingly become dependent upon insects and other pollinators over the past 50 years by 300%, The Guardian reported. At the same time, farming has become more intensive to produce enough volume to feed a growing global population, the news report said, by flattening wildflower meadows, spraying insecticides and using monoculture crops ‒ all tactics which damage bee populations.
"Pollination shortfalls" could cause certain fruits and vegetables to become rarer and more expensive, The Guardian reported. This could trigger nutritional deficits in diets as fresh foods are replaced by rice, wheat and corn, which are pollinated by wind rather than insects.
The study estimated that the five limited crops are valued at over $1.5 billion annually, and decreased yields or production seriously undercut that. They also noted that the value of all pollinator-dependent crops is much higher. A 2019 UN-backed assessment estimated that pollinator loss could threaten $235-577 billion in annual crop output globally.
The study suggested adopting better conservation or augmentation methods for wild bees, such as enhancing wildflowers, using managed pollinators other than honey bees to boost crop yields and investing in honey bee colonies, reported Futurity. The paper also recommended farmers review how much pollination might be needed to boost crop yields and assess whether pesticide and fertilizer levels used remains appropriate, The Guardian reported.
"The trends we are seeing now are setting us up for food security problems," Winfree told The Guardian. "We aren't yet in a complete crisis now but the trends aren't going in the right direction. Our study shows this isn't a problem for 10 or 20 years from now – it's happening right now."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
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The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>