Researchers studying the economic impact of bee pollination have found that the tiny insects contribute a massive amount to global agriculture. This may seem obvious, but what makes this latest study interesting is that scientists were able to quantify in dollars the work that bees do. Specifically, scientists spent three years studying some 74,000 bees from more than 780 species. Data from ninety projects monitoring bee pollination at 1,394 fields around the world was consulted, with scientists finding some surprising findings.
Firstly, only two percent of bee species, the most common varieties, fertilise around 80% of all bee-pollinated crops in the world. Moreover, the team calculated that on average, the value-added effect of wild bees is $3,251 per hectare ($1,315 per acre). To put this in perspective, an earlier study from 2005 showed that the pollination services of bees have an economic value of $172 billion, or 9.5% of total human food production.
By quantifying the ecological services provided by bees and other species, scientists are attempting to demonstrate to industry leaders and policy makers the significance of protecting biodiversity. By citing cold hard economic costs rather than appeals to moral or scientific motivations, researchers seek to motivate companies and governments to do more for the environment.
This is especially pertinent, for as many readers are probably aware, bee colonies around the world are collapsing due to a mixture of pesticides, mites, viruses and fungi. This so called “colony collapse syndrome” has many bee farmers and others worried that the repercussions associated with the loss of bees could be enormous. Last month, US watchdogs reported that American beekeepers lost some 42% of their bees colony populations, a rate considered by many as unsustainable. Fortunately, there are simple and cheap measures which can be undertaken in order to promote bee welfare, such as planting wild flowers with wider grassy margins around crops, and adopting less intensive or organic farming methods.