Study Shows Wild Bees On Decline

Study Shows Wild Bees On Decline

The first national study to map U.S. wild bees suggests they’re disappearing in many of the country’s most important farmlands — including California’s Central Valley, the Pacific Northwest and the upper Midwest.


If losses of these crucial pollinators continue, the new nationwide assessment indicates that farmers will face increasing costs — and that the problem may even destabilize the nation’s crop production.

The findings were published Dec. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A research team led by Insu Koh at the University of Vermont estimates that wild bee abundance between 2008 and 2013 declined in 23% of the contiguous U.S. The study also shows that 39% of U.S. croplands that depend on pollinators — from apple orchards to pumpkin patches — face a threatening mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees.

The new study identifies 139 counties in key agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas, and the southern Mississippi River valley that have the most worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand. These counties tend to be places that grow specialty crops — like almonds, blueberries, and apples — that are highly dependent on pollinators. Or they are counties that grow less dependent crops — like soybeans, canola and cotton — in very large quantities.

Of particular concern, the study shows that some of the crops most dependent on pollinators – including pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries – have the strongest pollination mismatch, with a simultaneous drop in wild bee supply and increase in pollination demand.

Pesticides, climate change, and diseases threaten wild bees — but the new study also shows that their decline may be caused by the conversion of bee habitat into cropland. In 11 key states where the new study shows bees in decline, the amount of land tilled to grow corn spiked by 200% in five years — replacing grasslands and pastures that once supported bee populations. “These results reinforce recent evidence that increased demand for corn in biofuel production has intensified threats to natural habitats in corn-growing regions,” the new study notes.

“By highlighting regions with loss of habitat for wild bees, government agencies and private organizations can focus their efforts at the national, regional, and state scales to support these important pollinators for more sustainable agricultural and natural landscapes,” says Michigan State University’s Rufus Isaacs, one of the co-authors on the study and leader of the Integrated Crop Pollination Project, a USDA-funded effort that supported the new research.

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Steve Bock says:

As a Apple grower and beekeeper, I know having a little extra habit for me makes a big difference. Perhaps some paid set a side land would certainly be wise investment for all us in all aspects.

LW says:

Did anybody notice the article was accompanied by an ad from Bayer for Sivanto insecticide? Is there something wrong here???

Martin Boksenbaum says:

In replacing grasslands and pastures with croplands, wouldn’t there also be an associated increase in use of pesticides??? If that were the case, the causal factor might not be the loss of habitat per se but the increased use of pesticides. Especially given that bee colony collapse occurs where there is no loss of habitat to croplands, right?

jeff says:

Pesticides used correctly can live in harmony with bees. We’ve been farming over 100 years Conventional farming and as current as last year have a large abundant of bumble bees and native bees and some wild honey bees on our farm. The past 10 or so years there has been a decline of wild honey bees but it’s not related to pesticides.There still have been an abundant of small bee pollinators during this time. Why wild honey bees only? Last year I noticed more wild honey bees but still lower than it used to be say10 years or so ago.

Martin Boksenbaum says:

You sound like you know what you’re doing and paying close attention to what’s happening on your farm. I respect that. I’m only an armchair speculator. A couple of concerns:
– Some of us armchair guys are concerned about putting toxic substances into the environment, into bees, into other living things, and perhaps, through the food chain, into our bodies. All of us are carrying a substantial toxic load of chemicals in our bodies from environmental pollution. We’re not all dropping dead but our health perhaps isn’t as good as it should be. It’d be interesting to find out what toxic load of pesticide chemicals bees are carrying.
– What do you think explains the difference between the success of the bees that don’t form the big hives (bumble bees and native bees) and the bees that form the big hives (wild honey bees)?

LW says:

Do some research on neonicotinoids, people. Here is but one article link:

There are many, many more articles from a variety of sources.

HLC says:

Honey bees are declining due to Viroa mites, bacteria, and viruses. Properly timed and applied pesticides can effectively target pest populations and limit / eliminate harm to honey bee populations….ie night applications when honey bees are not foraging and product choice. LW — Bayer Sivanto Insecticide is a good product choice for growers and was formulated with honeybee / bumblebee safety in mind (re: product label). Hence the advertisement attached to the article.

Neonicotinoids, if applied as a soil drench versus foliar app, have little to no affect on bee populations. If you spray a bee with household vinegar, you will also cause harm. Product choice, timing, and type of application all play a role and the USA grower is highly regulated versus our agricultural colleagues south of the border.

jeff says:

I believe you must have crop protection with new invasive species entering the country we should be moving in the direction of crop protection and feeding people not fear and falsehoods, The facts are when people complain that pesticides are bad I say look at the
facts people are living longer both my parents are over 80 years old and have enjoyed all the fruits and vegetables we have grown over the years. I know the farm can’t take all the credit but eating fresh and feeling good is huge to health I believe also that pesticides have actually saved lives. Back when there were no crop protection people didn’t live as long I know they can’t take all the credit but when people eat good they have stronger immune systems to fight diseases. When you aren’t controlling bugs they are building up in numbers and food gets scarcer. Pesticides also break down quite fast as a farmer I know. We need to teach people
to wash your food thoroughly and cook it thoroughly and eat fresh its just good practice if you have concerns. Both my parents have eaten right out of the field once the days to harvest are met on the labeled products but I believe washing food and cooking it thoroughly is good practice.I’m just trying to let people know some experiences we have been through. I’m not trying to push anything just what our family has experienced being in the farm business a long time. It’s also good to really search the facts of things, I care about the bees they have helped us all i believe we can have both and need both pesticides and bees. At least until something better is found to help feed people.

The study said that the demand for corn for bio-fuel has reduced the habitat for bees. If so, this is one more argument for getting out of growing corn for ethanol. The process, I have read, is inefficient and the ethanol in the fuel is undesirable for some engines. Philosophically, it just rankles to burn food and feed crops for auto fuel.

Pete Suddarth says:

For Boksenbaum. I’ve been in AG for 30 plus years. You are a tree hugging, fear mongering spreader of falsehoods. Despite what you claim to be “toxic” overloads in our bodies, lifespans in virtually every country in the world are lengthening with science. This includes pesticides and their “proper” use. Nuff said…thank you farmers!!!

Martin Boksenbaum says:

I like to think of myself as life-affirming and as a supporter of all who produce for need, farmers being among the foremost in such production. You might call me a farmer hugging, soil protecting, spreader of manure for the mind. I thank you, Pete, for being in AG. I think there are some things we all need to keep in mind in our decision-making, whatever we’re doing. Some of those things are on the positive side, things of which we can be joyous and proud — like having farmers who put wholesome food on our tables. Some things are on the negative side, things of which we would probably be wise to pay attention to — like the increasing number of health problems we face. There are health problems galore. If we were growing old gracefully, the medical industry wouldn’t be the fastest growing sector of the economy (see, for example, “Brookings: Healthcare is the Fastest-Growing Industry in the U.S.”: ), we would not be facing an obesity epidemic (see, for example, “Obesity: Overview of an Epidemic”: ), we wouldn’t be facing a diabetes epidemic (see, for example, “Four Decades of the Wrong Dietary Advice Has Paved the Way for the Diabetes Epidemic: Time to Change Course”: ), and so on. A number of health care professionals have connected some of our growing health problems to toxic overload. And these medical professionals do talk about toxic overload in the body. All you need to do is search for “toxic overload” and there’ll be links galore. For example, a link that popped up was to an article entitled “Is There Toxic Waste In Your Body?” on Dr. Mark Hyman’s website: . He lists 28 common symptoms of “chronic toxicity”. And there’s more. But nuff said??? So, now, what does any of this have to do with bees, pesticide use, health (environmental and personal), and putting wholesome food on our tables? I think we need to figure that out. And thank you farmers for being on the forefront of the efforts to feed us all.

Martin Boksenbaum says:

What happened to the lengthy reply I sent???

Martin Boksenbaum says:

Ah, there it is.

Pete Slowik says:

Habitat loss is usually the key with all species we have eliminated. I am a commercial fruit grower and maintain a 2 to 1 orchard acre to pollinator habitat and have seen only a small decrease in native pollinators.look around people this not difficult, drive thru the Delta or central illinois. All you have to do is look what we did to the bobwhite quail, that’s not a pesticide issue!

ac says:

People living longer is not necessarily a good thing. That is what creates a higher demand for food/crops. It is also what puts a strain on the natural environment. Humans had been living in harmony with nature for a very long time w/o chemicals. I do not believe this problem is a farm issue but i do believe, we as a whole are exposed to a high amount of toxic chemicals from many different sources all of which are deadly in some form and are OUR (humans) fault. The truth of it is those crops do not feed people they feed the pockets of people who do not care how the crops are grown as long as they get paid. (Not farmers-Government) Many farmers are forced to grow crops and use products they may not have if circumstances were different. This problem is a side effect from years and years of improper chemical use in the hands of irresponsible individuals. Pesticides are used by more than just farmers and residential use is in my opinion is just as detrimental to our declining environment as any other.

Southern Tier Farmer says:

Overall, we will see rises and declines in populations of insects,animals, fish, etc. This is natural but we humans can cause problems on a local level. One thing to remember is we humans ARE a part of the environment just like everything else. Also chemicals are what make up the entire earth and everything that lives on it. Always has, always will. If anyone is doing harm it is the govt. They pushed the ethanol production and mandated the amount that must be in gasoline. They also mandated the increase in the amount of ethanol per gallon. This caused the farmers to plant more and the govt wasted valuable tax dollars on these refineries. The govt wanted to lessen our dependence on oil but now with all the oil we have the price has dropped and we have a glut. So the govt is one of the reasons for the wild bee decline.

crush davis says:

Somebody mentioned a Sivanto ad in a thinly-veiled swipe at Bayer. Did I miss something? I don’t recall that Sivanto’s being implicated in declines in wild bee populations. But I DID read that converting land from non-crop to crop usage IS implicated. Yep. Even the vaunted organic grower can’t be “unresponsible” for bee decline in that context. Although they sure know how to prevaricate to make the public think that somehow they are. Give it a rest and stop looking for problems where they don’t exist.