Between 2008 and 2013, the United States lost nearly a quarter of its wild bees. Some 39% of our nation’s croplands rely on pollinators. Important farming regions – from California’s Central Valley to the Midwest’s Corn Belt – are among the areas grappling with wild bee declines.
In the absence of a recovery, pollinator shortages threaten to increase farming costs and destabilize the production of crops like apples and pumpkins. So reports the first national study to map both the status of wild bees and their impacts on pollination services, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to lead author Insu Koh, a researcher at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, “more than $3 billion of the US agricultural economy depends on the pollination services of native pollinators, like wild bees.” Mapping done by Koh and colleagues pinpointed “pollinator hotspots” – areas where wild bees are most threatened, and where their declines will hurt farming.
A common theme among the 139 counties identified as “at risk”: a mismatch between falling wild bee numbers and rising demand for crop pollination services. The steepest mismatches were found in areas growing pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples, and blueberries.
Insights are valuable to pollinator conservation and restoration efforts. Just last summer, the Obama Administration released a presidential memorandum highlighting the plight of pollinators, their contributions to the farm economy, and the need for a national assessment of wild pollinators and their habitats. And this May, the Pollinator Health Taskforce issued a recovery strategy, which included a call for protecting some 7 million acres of habitat.
Wild bee decline threatens US crop production
Obama’s Pollinator Research Action Plan
Photo, posted July 16, 2011, courtesy of Ano Lobb via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio, with script contribution from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.