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Honeybee populations are in decline worldwide, and, because we need them to pollinate fruits and vegetables, that spells big trouble for our food supply. But there’s a glimmer of good news: Researchers are finally starting to get a handle on the exact challenges bees face and how to deal with them, according to two recent surveys published in the journals Nature and Science.
The bee situation is nothing if not complicated. Things started to look dire around a decade ago, when unusually large numbers of bees essentially were lost to an odd phenomenon called colony collapse disorder—odd because there’s little evidence the bees actually died. Instead, they just went missing. Since that time, however, managed bee populations (as opposed to wild ones) seem to have recovered.
There’s no one explanation for bee populations’ ups and downs. It’s thought that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides introduced in the 1990s, play a role, but their impact depends on the crops involved. Other pesticides, parasites, and maybe even climate change could be involved, but no one’s quite sure how exactly. It’s important that we get to the bottom of this decline because most of our fruits and vegetables—around 5 to 8 percent of our food supply—need bees and other insect pollinators to reproduce.
Now, Lynn Dicks, Rosemary Hill, Simon Potts, and their colleagues have managed to summarize what’s known with a paper published this week in Nature. The study builds on a recent report for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, one of the most comprehensive to date.