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Wild Bee Populations Least Abundant In US Agricultural Regions Where Crop Pollination Most Needed

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A new study found that wild bee populations are declining in U.S. regions where the species are mostly needed. Since the wild pollinators are responsible for the cultivation of most crops, the study results created a worrisome news for the country's agricultural sector.

The study is the first ever bid to concurrently identify the trends of wild bee populations based on the land conversions made recently and the pollinator demands of diverse crops throughout the country.

Wild Bees

Wild bees play a vital role in the world of pollination. Just like honeybees, however, the species also face a range of hazards such as habitat loss, pesticide exposure and climate change.

"Most people can think of one or two types of bee, but there are 4,000 species in the U.S. alone," said Taylor Ricketts from the University of Vermont.

He added that wild bees are precious and that humans should also celebrate and protect them. Saving the species means the nation will earn billions of dollars from agricultural products and enjoy a diversity of healthy, natural food.

Mapping Out Wild Bee Populations

To reach their goal, the team of researchers combined a model of wild bee settlements, information about land coverage and expert knowledge. Through these tools, the scientists were able to map out the abundance and trends of wild bee populations in the U.S.

After analysis, the researchers were able to determine a total of 139 counties that elicited troublesome results. These counties presented a decline in wild bee populations yet showed a rise in farmlands where crops that need wild pollinators are planted.

In California, the counties identified were Pacific Northwest, Central Valley, west Texas, southern Mississippi River valley and upper Midwest and Great Plains. These agricultural regions grow crops such as pumpkins, blueberries, almonds, watermelons, apples and peaches — all of which are highly dependent on pollinators.

Supply Versus Demand

The researchers recognized that the supply of honeybees versus the demand for pollination have not been smoothly coordinated over the years. The reasons for such imbalanced pacing are management obstacles and lack of colonies over the last 10 years.

"We see striking mismatches in many places between the demand for pollination and the ability of wild pollinators to support that need," said Neal Williams from UC Davis.

Williams explained that the study is one of a kind in terms of entailing skepticism in current knowledge people have of pollinator habitats. With this, it acknowledges the areas that need more support in order to gauge more effectively the weak points of its pollination services.

The authors said there exist increasing evidences that wild, unmanaged bees are able to provide effective pollination to habitats that are adequate enough to support pollination.

"We can now predict which areas are suffering the biggest declines of wild bee abundance," said Insu Koh from the University of Vermont. He added that through these data, they can also determine the regions with mismatched bee supply and demand, which tops the priority conservation list.

Hope To Elicit Government Action

The researchers believe the findings of the study may aid farmers and other people in the agricultural sector to formulate management interventions to save the wild bee population. Through these efforts, pollination services will be enhanced and the entire ecosystem will be put to a balance.

The research came after a U.S. presidential memorandum pertaining to the national assessment of pollinators was released. Through the said memo, the government aims to improve the health of honeybees and other pollinators. Among the goals of the authorities is to allot seven million acres of land for five years to pollinators.

Williams hopes that through their study, the federal government will be able to gain more insight to enhance the understanding of people about the true challenges faced by the pollinators.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science on December 21.

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