Threats to bee colonies linked to concerns about global food security

By Ruth Hendry - 10 Mar 2011 22:3:2 GMT
Bad news for bees and us

A report, Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, was published today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and analyses the latest research into declining bee populations.

Threats include increasing use of pesticides, air pollution, parasites and declines in flowering plants. The use of chemical insecticides is increasing and the different insecticides are acting as a 'lethal cocktail', deadly to bee species.

In addition, an estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the next few decades. Climate change is adding to the bees' problems by changing the flowering times of plants and affecting rainfall patterns.

Scientists are warning that we need to rethink the way in which humans manage the planet if we are to feed a growing world population. Bees and other pollinators are hugely important in global food production and integral to healthy ecosystems.

Without pollination, many flowering crops would yield little or no fruit. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: ''The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees''.

The UNEP report shows that boosting bee populations could improve food security and ensure that both important crops and threatened wild plants are protected. The authors of the report make several suggestions.

Firstly, an incentive scheme for landowners to restore pollinator-friendly habitats, including key flowering plants next to crop-producing fields. This would benefit both farmers and bee populations.

In addition, the authors show that more care needs to be taken in the choice and application of chemical insecticides. These are simple measures that would halt the devastating decline in bee populations and alleviate our fears regarding global food security.