Bee and Wildflower Diversity Decline Together
The diversity of bees and wildflowers is declining simultaneously in both Britain and the Netherlands, according to a study published in the July 21 issue of Science. While other research has documented dwindling numbers of specific pollinating insects, the study is the first to suggest large-scale losses. “We were shocked by [the] decline in plants as well as bees,” said Dr. Koos Biesmeijer, a research fellow at the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study. “If this pattern is replicated elsewhere, the ‘pollinator services’ we take for granted could be at risk.”
The researchers compiled biodiversity data from hundreds of sites in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and found that bee diversity had decreased in nearly 80 percent of them over the past 25 years. Wild plants that depend on bees for pollination similarly declined, though plants that rely largely on wind and water for pollination increased in the UK. Researchers have estimated the worldwide value of bees as crop pollinators at some US$92 billion. The study provides an important example of how tightly knit species can spiral into co-extinction; this phenomenon, scientists suggest, may mean that current estimates of species’ extinction risks are underestimated by as much as 50 percent.
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