(Beyond Pesticides, April 4, 2014) Habitat destruction, pesticide contamination, agricultural intensification and climate change threaten 24 percent of Europe’s bumblebees, according to research conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and funded by the European Commission. The study is part an ongoing project called European Red List of pollinators, with contribution from experts of the “Status and Trends of European Pollinators” (STEP) project, which assesses the conservation status of all bees ””approximately 2000 species”” occurring throughout Europe.
The study concludes that almost half of the 68 species in the European Union (EU) are in decline, including those at risk of extinction. Of these, a total of 16 species are listed as at risk according to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, which represents the world most trusted authority on the conservation status of species. In comparison, only 13 percent of bumblebee populations are increasing.
“We are very concerned with these findings. Such a high proportion of threatened bumblebees can have serious implications for our food production,” says Ana Nieto, European Biodiversity Officer of IUCN and coordinator of the study. “Protecting bumblebee species and habitats, restoring degraded ecosystems and promoting biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices will be essential to reverse the negative trends in European bumblebee populations.”
Bumblebees, like honey bees, are crucial for a functional food system, “Of the five most important insect pollinators of European crops, three are bumblebees, says the IUCN press statement, adding that they contribute 22 billion euros ($30.35 billion) to European agriculture. Some crops, including tomatoes, almost completely rely on bumblebees to produce fruit. Through a technique known as ”˜buzz pollination’ bumblebees are able to release the pollen tightly held by the flower —essentially by rapidly moving their wings, causing resonant vibrations bumblebees can shake loose the pollen to accomplish pollination. No bumblebees, no tomatoes.
Of course, the EU recently implemented a two-year ban on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides ””imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam”” follows a report identifying “high acute risk” to honey bees. “However, efforts clearly need to be scaled up,” said Janez PotoÄ‡nik, EU Environmental Commissioner on the ban, continuing to say that integrating biodiversity requirements into other policies would be necessary.
In addition to pesticide exposure, the study found that changes in land use, intensification of agriculture, and climate change have severely reduced the habitat available for bumblebees, some of which are highly specialized. For example, Bombus culllumanus, listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List has declined by more than 80 percent over the past decade, due primarily to the loss of important forage like clover which farmer practices have removed. The populations that were once widespread now only exists in small fragments across Europe.
Improving forage availability, planting hedgerows, and reducing the use of bee-toxic pesticides would all help underpin stable populations of pollinators, says the IUCN press statement.
Beyond Pesticides and Center for Food Safety launched the BEE Protective campaign, a national public education effort supporting local action aimed at protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides and contaminated landscapes. BEE Protective includes a variety of educational materials to help encourage municipalities, campuses, and individual homeowners to adopt policies and practices that protect bees and other pollinators from harmful pesticide applications and create pesticide-free refuges for these beneficial organisms. In addition to scientific and regulatory information, BEE Protective also includes a model community pollinator resolution and a pollinator protection pledge. Pollinators are a vital part of our environment and a barometer for healthy ecosystems. Let’s all do our part to BEE Protective of these critical species. Please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Bee Protective webpage to learn more about our efforts to save pollinators and what you can do to help.
Continue your commitment to helping pollinators by joining us April 11-12 for Beyond Pesticides’ 32nd National Pesticide Forum, “Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, pollinators, and practices,” in Portland, OR. The Forum will focus on solutions to the decline of pollinators and other beneficial organisms, strengthening organic agriculture, improving farmworker protection and agricultural justice, and creating healthy buildings, schools and homes. Space is limited so register now.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.