Pollination is a valuable – yet threatened – ecosystem service
Pollination is a valuable service provided by both managed bees (primarily honey bees, Apis mellifera) and wild native bees. Bee pollination is essential for the production of fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices, stimulants (such as coffee) and edible oils (such as sunflower and canola). Estimates of the economic contribution of pollination vary widely, but two studies give us a sense of the magnitude of the contribution pollinators make to the global and national economy. Gallai et al. (2009) estimated that the contribution of pollination to the global economy was approximately $170 billion annually, and Calderone (2012), based on data for the U.S. alone, estimated that pollination contributes over $15 billion/year to the U.S. economy. In New York, important pollinator-dependent crops include apple ($250 million/year), squash and pumpkin ($74 million/year), tomatoes ($47 million/year), strawberries ($7 million/year), cherries ($3 million/year) and pears ($2.5 million/year) (economic data from New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets). Many of New York’s most high value fruits are entirely dependent on pollinators for successful production.
Unfortunately, pollinator populations are in decline throughout North America and Europe. There are 49 native bee species declining in the Northeastern U.S., with seven of them listed as rare or endangered. The beekeeping industry, which manages the non-native honey bee, is also struggling globally. Last year, New York beekeepers lost an estimated 54% of their hives . The scientific consensus is that there is no single factor contributing to these declines, but rather multiple stress factors are interacting and and being amplified.
Threats from pesticides
Pesticides are an integral part of conventional agriculture. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides help maximize crop quantity and quality by reducing the pests and diseases that cause damage. Unfortunately, non-target organisms such as pollinators can come in contact with these pesticides while foraging. In addition, beekeepers also apply pesticides to their colonies to control for Varroa mites.
Research is beginning to show that some pesticides are harmful for pollinators. They can have negative effects at the individual level (such as mortality, foraging or learning), the sub-individual level (such as gene expression or physiology) or even the colony level (such as colony growth, overwintering or honey production).
Threats from fungicides
Certain fungicides are emerging as being harmful to bee health. As of Sept 15, 2015, there are 184 fungicide products registered for use in New York. While foraging, bees can come in contact with fungicides that are sprayed on orchards and in other landscapes. To date, fungicide residues have been detected in pollen, bee bread, wax and honey in bee hives and nests [2-5]. In fact, next to miticides applied by beekeepers to control varroa, residues in hive materials are predominantly fungicides . Despite the prevalence of fungicide use in conventional agriculture, scientific research is only beginning to uncover how they may affect wild and managed bees.
Steinhauer, N., et al. Colony loss 2014-2015: Preliminary results. Bee Informed Partnership 2015 [accessed on November 23, 2015]; Available from: https://beeinformed.org/results/colony-loss-2014-2015-preliminary-results/.
Kubik, M., et al., 2000. Residues of captan (contact) and difenoconazole (systemic) fungicides in bee products from an apple orchard. Apidologie, 31(4): p. 531-541.
Simon-Delso, N., et al., 2014. Honeybee Colony Disorder in Crop Areas: The Role of Pesticides and Viruses. Plos One, 9(7).
Pettis, J.S., et al., 2013. Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae. Plos One, 8(7).
Sanchez-Bayo, F. and K. Goka, 2014. Pesticide Residues and Bees - A Risk Assessment. Plos One, 9(4).
Mullin, C., et al., 2010. High levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries: implications for honey bee health. PLoS One, 5: p. e9754.