European bee shortage threatens crop pollination

The need for insect pollinators is growing at five times the rate of honeybee colonies across Europe.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Jan. 9, 2014 at 11:52 AM
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Europe has a deficit of 13.4 million beehives needed for the pollination of crops, even as farmers across Europe are encouraged to grow more oil and fruit crops that depend on such pollination.

The demand for insect pollination has grown five times as fast the number of honeybee colonies in Europe, according to new research conducted at the University of Reading. The research shows that famers are increasingly relying on wild pollinators, such a bumble bees, solitary bees and hoverflies even though there are few safeguards to protect their numbers.

"The results don't show that wild pollinators actually do all the work, but they do show we have less security if their populations should collapse," said Dr. Tom Breeze, who conducted the research published in the journal PLOS One.

According to data collected from 2005 to 2010, more than half of European countries, including the U.K., Germany, France and Italy, did not have enough honeybees to pollinate crops. The U.K. was worst hit by the shortage and has only a fourth of the bees they require. The only country with a bigger deficit was Moldova, one of the poorest countries on the continent.

"There is a growing disconnection between agricultural and environmental policies across Europe. Farmers are encouraged to grow oil crops, yet there is not enough joined-up thinking about how to help the insects that will pollinate them," said Simon Potts, lead researcher.

[University of Reading] [PLOS One]

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