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Video: Can we rely on honeybees for pollination?

Posted by on January 16, 2014

By Rebecca Nesbit, press officer at the Society of Biology

Insect pollination improves production in around 75% of global crops, and both wild pollinators and managed honeybees are important. Recently, EU agricultural and biofuel policies have led to an increased area of insect pollinated crops. But do we have enough honeybees to pollinate them?

In this video, scientists from the University of Reading explain their work with international collaborators to study whether the supply of honeybees matches pollinator demand.

Their study shows that the recommended number of honeybees needed for crop pollination rose 4.9 times as fast as honeybee stocks across Europe between 2005 and 2010.

It is very difficult to assess the relative importance of wild pollinators and honeybees. However, this mismatch between honeybee numbers and pollination requirements raises concern about how effective honeybees are as an insurance against wild pollinator losses or fluctuations.

Honeybee declines in many parts of Europe are largely due to the spread of parasites and rising beekeeping costs. However, honeybees are more resilient to habitat loss than wild pollinators.

This work demonstrates the need for a greater understanding of pollinator biology and for conservation schemes to protect pollinators. Although agricultural crops can be a major food source for pollinators, problems can occur if a single crop type provides food only for a short period of time. A diversity of forage sources are needed to sustain pollinators at other times of year.

Breeze TD, Vaissière BE, Bommarco R, Petanidou T, Seraphides N, Kozák L, Scheper J, Biesmeijer JC, Kleijn D, Gyldenkærne S, Moretti M, Holzschuh A, Steffan-Dewenter I, Stout JC, Pärtel M, Zobel M, & Potts SG (2014). Agricultural policies exacerbate honeybee pollination service supply-demand mismatches across europe. PloS one, 9 (1) PMID: 24421873

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