Bees are in real danger in Europe, where up to 10 percent of species are in danger of going extinct, according to a new study. Currently, an estimated 1,965 varieties of the insects populate the continent, and both domestic and wild bees are essential for pollinating plants, including crops grown for human consumption.

The European Commission released the report, which is the first to examine the health of wild bees in Europe. These insects pollinate about 84 percent of crops, improving yields, as well as the quality, of fruits and vegetables.

The new report reveals that 9.2 percent of species of bees are in immediate danger of extinction, while 5.2 percent are likely to be threatened in the coming years. Around 7.7 percent of bee species in Europe were found to be experiencing population declines, 12.6 percent are stable, and 0.7 percent of species are becoming more populous, the study determined.

"Our quality of life - and our future - depends on the many services that nature provides for free. Pollination is one of these services, so it is very worrying to learn that some of our top pollinators are at risk! If we don't address the reasons behind this decline in wild bees, and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed," Karmenu Vellu, the European Commissioner for the environment, said.

Europe is developing an intensive program to assist bee species in recovering from recent losses. This response will address damage done by agriculture, habitat loss, and the impact of invasive species on bee populations.

"Biodiversity loss is an enormous challenge in the EU, with Europe's species richness currently highly threatened by human activities. Progress has been made on a number of fronts: certain populations and distributions of wildlife species are showing positive trends, with some species that were once at risk of extinction now stabilising or even increasing," the European Red List of Bees states.

Biologists are still uncertain what causes are driving the loss of bees around the world. The overuse of pesticides and insecticides may be responsible, and climate change could also be negatively impacting populations, researchers believe. Heat waves, powerful storms, and rising temperatures can all damage the native habitats of the insects.

The new study was released as part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) European Red List of Bees and the Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project.

"Bees play an essential role in the pollination of our crops. We must urgently invest in further research in order to provide the best possible recommendations on how to reverse their decline," Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme, said.

Photo: Bob Peterson | Flickr

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