Ten years ago, the first alarming indications of major harm to bees hit global headlines. In the US, large scale deaths of honey bees were reported, with an estimated 30% of managed colonies being lost each year. Unusually high hive losses of 25-30% have been reported in Europe and 25% of beekeepers in Japan reported a similar level of loss, matching reports emerging from China and Egypt.
In addition, many native wild bee species, such as bumblebees and leafcutter bees, are suffering severe population losses across the world, with some species facing extinction. Along with honey bees, these wild bees are important pollinators of the food and medicinal crops we grow. Other pollinating insects, such as butterflies and moths, are also under threat.
Several factors are thought to be behind these declines: changes in farming practices and land use, which affect bees’ food sources and nesting habitat; increased levels of parasites and diseases; and exposure to pesticides and other toxic pollutants.
As US researchers expressed in their article ‘The Plight of the Bees’: “Bees are reaching their tipping point because they are expected to perform in an increasingly inhospitable world”.