EU is short 13 million honeybee colonies for crop pollination
Europe has 13.4 million too few honeybee colonies to properly pollinate its crops, according to new research from the University of Reading.
The discovery, made by scientists at the University's Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER), shows that demand for insect pollination is growing five times as fast as the number of honeybee colonies across Europe as farmers grow more insect-pollinated oil crops, such as oilseed rape and sunflowers, and fruit.
Researchers, led by Professor Simon Potts at the University of Reading, compared the numbers of honeybee colonies to the demand for pollination services across 41 European countries, and mapped the changes between 2005 and 2010. They found:
In more than half of European countries - including the UK, France, Germany and Italy, there were not enough honeybees to properly pollinate the crops grown.
The problem was particularly acute in Britain, which has only a quarter of the honeybees it needs to pollinate crops.
Only Moldova - one of the continent's poorest countries, with an economy more than 300 times smaller than the UK's – has a bigger honeybee deficit than the UK.
click image to zoomUniversity of ReadingMap of Europe shows the capacity of national honeybee colonies to supply demand for pollination services. Europe as a whole only has two thirds of the honeybee colonies it needs, with a deficit of more than 13.4 million colonies.
The findings suggest that agriculture in many countries growers are increasingly reliant upon wild pollinators, such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies. However, Europe still lacks coherent environmental and agricultural policies to protect these insects' habitats.
Tom Breeze, Ph.D., who conducted the research published today (Jan. 8, 2014) in the Journal PLOS One, said: "This study has shown that EU biofuel policy has had an unforeseen consequence in making us more reliant upon wild pollinators.
"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."
This follows other research from the University of Reading, published last month in the Journal Biological Conservation, showing that wild pollinators such as bumblebees and solitary bees are just as effective pollinators of oilseed rape as honeybees.
Dr Mike Garratt, who led the study, said: "Wild pollinators are clearly already making an important contribution to oilseed rape pollination."
Professor Potts said: "This new research provides yet more evidence of the need for greater protection of our wild pollinators, the unsung heroes of the countryside, upon whom humans depend so closely for our food supply.