Honey bee decline spreading globally

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Western Honey Bee.
Image: Jon Sullivan.

Scientists working for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported Thursday that the collapse of honey bee colonies is becoming a world wide phenomenon and will continue unless humans work to restore habitats for bees. The insects are necessary for pollinating crops and the report calls for profound changes in how humans manage the planet.

The decline in managed bee colonies, first noticed in Europe and the U.S., is now seen in China and Japan, and there are signs of colony collapses in Egypt. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honey-producing colonies in the U.S. have declined from 5.5 million colonies in 1950 to 2.5 million in 2007. A co-author of the report, Peter Neumann, said changes in rural areas during the past 50 years have contributed to decline of wild bees and other pollinators. Additional factors include the declines in flowering plants, the use of harmful chemicals and insecticides, the increase in air pollution and a worldwide trade system that spreads bee pathogens and pests.

The world's growing population means more bees are needed to pollinate the crops to feed more people. According to the U.N. report, of the 100 crop species that supply 90 percent of the world's food, bees pollinate more than 70 percent. Noting that humans seem to believe that they can operate independent of nature through technological innovations, Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UNEP said, "Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature's services in a world of close to 7 billion people."

The report calls for such measures as incentives for farmers and land owners to encourage them to restore habitats that are friendly to pollinators.


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