Bee Count

Crop-pollinating bees are worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry, but scientists don’t have a good way to monitor the populations of these valuable insects. In Conservation Biology, researchers propose a global sampling program that could do the job for about 2 million dollars.

Insects pollinate about 190.5 billion dollars’ worth of crops every year. These insect-pollinated crops often command a higher price than crops pollinated by wind. But commercial bee colonies have been devastated in recent years by colony collapse disorder. And “no monitoring program exists to accurately detect declines in abundance of insect pollinators,” the study authors write.

The team examined 11 bee sampling studies, which used methods such as pan traps or netting. The researchers then ran simulations to figure out how much sampling would be needed to detect declines of 1 to 7 percent.

Monitoring 200 to 250 sites for five years would allow researchers to detect declines of 2 to 5 percent per year, the team reports. Such a program would cost about 2 million dollars, but the authors point out that this number pales in comparison to the cost of losing insect pollinators. By catching potential problems early, managers could “avoid the financial and nutritional crisis that would result if there were an unforeseen and rapid collapse of pollinator communities,” they write. Roberta Kwok | 21 December 2012

Source: LeBuhn, G. et al. 2012. Detecting insect pollinator declines on regional and global scales. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01962.x.

Image © Tischenko Irina |