International researchers met in Leiden (Netherlands) in early March, to discuss the latest research on pollinators and stress the need to communicate their value more actively to citizens and policy advisors. Better science communication, backed by more research funding, could help ensure sustainable pollination worldwide.
The event was the final conference of COST-funded Super-B , a network of scientists, NGOs and government researchers from 38 countries in Europe and worldwide working on sustainable pollination for Europe’s crops and wild flowers.
Around 75% of our most important crops – including fruits, nuts, oil seeds, coffee, and vegetables – need insects for an optimal pollination . Without it, some of these crops do not produce yields. The amount of global food production depending on natural pollination is worth as much as $577 billion a year .
The network has helped honeybee and wild bee communities come together and has paved the way for economists, psychologists and social scientists to join in the conversation. “It’s time we got farmers, policy-makers and citizens more involved, now that we understand more about why pollinators are so important in food production”, said Dr Jane Stout of Trinity College Dublin.
Honeybees are not the only pollinators
“When it comes to pollinators, it’s not only honeybees that matter” , says Prof. Koos Biesmeijer at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, leading the network. There are over 20 000 species of wild bees that contribute to pollination, alongside species of butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other vertebrates. 40% of invertebrate pollinators – especially bees and butterflies – and around 17% of vertebrate ones are facing extinction, because they cannot find enough food or safe areas to nest.
By connecting research efforts and dispersed data on pollination management from various European countries, the Super-B network has also identified several issues to be addressed in order to ensure both honeybees and wild pollinators such as bumblebees, flies, butterflies, other insects and vertebrates can thrive in their native environments.
They are recommending reducing the use of pesticides outside agriculture and encourage the use of other bees – instead of the honeybee – to pollinate crops. They also said that agricultural industry practices are becoming more homogenous, which can threaten the diversity and number of native pollinators. Recommendations also included the need to tackle emerging viruses and the effects of extreme weather, a result of climate change.
Stressing the importance of research funds in the field, Dr Jane Stout of Trinity College Dublin said: “Being able to identity species is crucial for the assessment and conservation of bees. We don’t know the conservation status of over 50% of European bee species. The Super-B network has been great in bringing communities together and linking data, but we still need more funding for research.”
COST Action COLOSS was instrumental in advancing research on honeybee colony loss. Its members came up with new standards for bee research and the monitoring of bee colonies all over the world. They also set up a database that scientists and other stakeholders could use to draw conclusions on honeybee losses globally. The network is now the global association for honeybee research – a global network of over 1000 members from 96 countries worldwide.
Super-B is at www.superb-project.eu
COLOSS (Prevention of honey bee COlony LOSSes) is an international, non-profit association headquartered in Bern, Switzerland that is focussed on improving the well-being of bees at a global level.
It is composed of scientific professionals that include researchers, veterinarians, agriculture extension specialists and students, who understand that cooperation and open dialogue are key to better understanding the reasons why bee populations are threatened in today’s world.