Mar 10

Bee colonies worldwide are under threat, with serious implications for biodiversity and food security, a new UNEP report suggests.

Bees are perhaps the most economically important group of pollinators. Around 90% of the world’s food is provided by around 100 crop species – and more than 70 of these are pollinated by bees.

Photo of honey bee worker feeding

Honey bee worker feeding.

Mystery disappearance

The mysterious collapse of honey bee colonies in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and the unexplained decline of wild bee pollinators globally, is an increasingly common phenomenon known as ‘colony collapse disorder’.

The report, entitled ‘Global Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators’, warns that the disappearance of bees could have a profound effect on global food supplies.

Photo of honey bee performing waggle dance

Honey bee colony.

‘More than a dozen threats’ to declining bees

Compiled by some of the world’s leading honey bee experts, the report highlights more than a dozen factors which may be contributing to the increasing bee decline.

The emergence of new kinds of pathogens and disease are proving deadly to bees and other key pollinators, and the rapid spread of these diseases around the world has been facilitated by increasing globalisation and international trade. The parasitic mite Varroa destructor has also been identified as a serious threat, spreading viral diseases as it feeds on the circulatory fluid of the bees and moves from one colony to another.

Air pollution is thought to be affecting the ability of bees to detect the scent of flowers, while many chemicals that are used in agriculture have been found to be damaging to bees, with some combinations of pesticides acting as a ‘lethal cocktail’.

The report also estimates that unless conservation efforts are stepped up, as many as 20,000 flowering plant species could be lost over the coming decades, removing vital food and habitat upon which many bee species depend.

Photo of honey bee feeding

Honey bee feeding.

Climate change is also likely to exacerbate the problems being faced by bees, altering flowering and rainfall patterns and affecting the quality and quantity of nectar supplies.

Declines likely to continue

According to Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, “The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century.”

“Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people”.

Without drastic changes to the way that humans manage the planet, the current declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue, the report concludes.

Read the full report: ‘Global Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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