Industrial farming, monoculture cause trouble for native pollinators

PRINCETON, New Jersey, December 20, 2002 (ENS): Intensive, industrial scale farming may be damaging native bee populations, a natural resource useful for pollination.

A new study shows that native bee populations plummet as agricultural intensity goes up. In farms studied in and around the Sacramento Valley in California, concentrated farming appeared to reduce bee populations by eliminating natural habitats and poisoning them with pesticides, the researchers reported.

Most farmers depend on imported, rented bees, which are in decline because of disease and heavy pesticide use. The study, published in a recent "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," found that native bees are capable of doing a lot more pollinating than previously believed. But it would take careful land use to take advantage of that capacity, the researchers concluded, because current high density, pesticide-dependent agriculture cannot support native bees.

Suppressing the many species of native bees and relying on just a few species of imported ones may be risky. Farmers who use managed bee populations - that is, most commercial farmers - depend on fewer than 11 species out of the 20,000 to 30,000 bee species worldwide.

Other researchers have estimated that $5 billion to $14 billion worth of U.S. crops are pollinated by a single species of bee, the European honey bee.

For the full story from the Environmental News Service:

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