Bumblebees, solitary bees and other wild pollinating insects are much more important for pollinating UK crops than previously thought, say researchers.
They found that honeybee populations have nose-dived so dramatically in recent years that they can only do half as much pollination as they did in the early 1980s.
Where honeybees used to provide around 70 per cent of the UK’s pollination needs they now only pollinate a third. At worst, that figure could well be more like 10 to 15 per cent.
Paradoxically over the last 20 years, the proportion of UK crops that rely on insects for pollination has risen from just under 8 per cent in the early 1980s to 20 per cent in 2007. And over the same period, yields of insect-pollinated crops, which include oil seed rape and field bean, have gone up by 54 per cent.
This means that honeybees can’t be solely responsible, or aren’t the only important pollinator.
So if honeybees aren’t pollinating the crops, what is? The researchers think that other important pollinating insects, such as bumblebees, hoverflies and solitary bees must be making up the shortfall.
‘Our finding suggests that wild insect pollinators make a much bigger contribution to UK crop pollination than previously thought,’ says Tom Breeze from the University of Reading, lead author of the study.
Planet Earth Online
Research paper: T.D. Breeze, A.P. Bailey, K.G. Balcombe and S.G. Potts, Pollination services in the UK: How important are honeybees?, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, published online 20 May 2011, doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.020