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Study: Global Bee Populations on Decline

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Common halictid bee populations have declined by 17% since 1990, while the rarer Melittidae have dropped by 41%. (Bob Peterson/Wikimedia Commons)
Common halictid bee populations have declined by 17% since 1990, while the rarer Melittidae have dropped by 41%. (Bob Peterson/Wikimedia Commons)
 By Eric Galatas - Producer, Contact
January 26, 2021

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A new study confirms mounting evidence bee populations are on the decline in Nebraska and across the globe.

Researchers scoured an international network of databases, from universities, museums and government agencies, filled with more than three centuries of data. They found there have been zero sightings for nearly a quarter of all known bee species in more than 30 years.

Eduardo Zattara, biologist at the Institute for Research on Biodiversity and the Environment, and the report's co-author, said that's a problem in part because bees are critical for food production.

"Many crops that are actually of high value, like fruits, almonds, are highly dependent on pollinators, and so we need bees," Zattara explained. "No bees, you get no fruit."

Climate change, loss of pollinator habitat to human development, and the growing use of neonicotinoid insecticides are seen as primary drivers of declining bee numbers.

Neonicotinoid manufacturers have argued honeybee populations are on the rise globally, and have conducted studies showing no harm to colonies when their product is used correctly.

Zattara said honeybees have become the poster child of bee conservation efforts, which he believes is misguided.

He said once farmers figure out the right levels of chemical insecticides, honeybees are likely to do just fine, and their populations can be restored with enough investment.

"The problem is that it's all the other bees," Zattara observed. "There's 20,000 species of bees. If you put all of the focus on the honeybee, you're going to be missing the other ones. The other ones are actually providing a lot of support for what honeybees cannot do."

Zattara pointed to a Twitter post he came across comparing bird and bee biodiversity to illustrate the challenge facing conservationists.

Zattara said honeybees are like the chickens of the insect world. Preventing the loss of diverse bird species will not happen by raising more chickens.

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