Shortage of bees could reduce yields

Yields of crops including apples, cherries and blueberries are being reduced due to a lack of pollinators such as honeybees according to new US research.

The report, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences) points out that many of the world’s crop species depend on bees for pollination, and that population declines could have large effects on crop yields.

“We found that many crops are pollination-limited, meaning crop production would be higher if crop flowers received more pollination. We also found that honeybees and wild bees provided similar amounts of pollination overall,” said senior author Rachael Winfree, a professor at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Managing habitat for native bee species and/or stocking more honeybees would boost pollination levels and could increase crop production.”

At 131 farms across the United States and in British Columbia, Canada, scientists collected data on insect pollination of crop flowers and yield for apples, highbush blueberries, sweet cherries, tart cherries, almond, watermelon and pumpkin. Of those, apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries and blueberries showed evidence of being limited by pollination, indicating that yields are currently lower than they would be with full pollination.

“Our findings show that pollinator declines could translate directly into decreased yields for most of the crops studied,” the study says. The findings suggest that adopting practices that conserve or augment wild bees, such as enhancing wildflowers and using managed pollinators other than honeybees, is likely to boost yields.

Photo source: Winfree lab / Rutgers University

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