The humble honeybee is one of the hardest working, least appreciated and most valued insects in nature, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
The study found that wild bee populations provide crop pollination services worth more than $3,250 per hectare per year, making their value to the global food system worth “in the billions, globally,” its authors wrote.
The researchers followed the activities of nearly 74,000 bees, representing more than 780 species, for over three years. That meant looking at 90 projects monitoring bee pollination at 1,394 sites round the world.
In interesting finding was that wild bees, as opposed to farmed honeybees, contribute $3,251 a hectare to crop production versus $2,913 a hectare for their farmed counterparts, a nearly 15% greater level of productivity.
Yet almost one in 10 of Europe's wild bee species are threatened by extinction. The rise of pesticide chemicals is largely to blame, as we covered here earlier.
The study adds is one of a few new attempts to quantify the economic impact of “ecosystem services”, the natural processes we rely on to obtain food. The authors are looking to document the impact of damage to these services in order to discourage environmental plundering.
One of the most stunning conclusions from the study is that just 2% of wild bee species fertilize about 80% of crops. Lose one or two key species and the economic hit is tremendous.
“Rare and threatened species may play a less significant role economically than common species but this does not mean their protection is less important,” said study lead author David Kleijn, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands..
He added that a healthy diversity of bee species was essential to account for major fluctuations in worldwide bee populations.
“This study shows us that wild bees provide enormous economic benefits but reaffirms that the justification for protecting species cannot always be economic,” said University of Vermont co-author Taylor Ricketts.
“We still have to agree that protecting biodiversity is the right thing to do.”
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, over 80% of flowering plant species are pollinated by insects, though some are pollinated by birds and bats.