The number of wild bee species recorded by an international life-on-earth database has fallen by a quarter since 1990, according to a global analysis of bee decline.
The researchers analyzed bee archives from museums, universities and citizen scientists gathered by the Global Biodiversity Information Center, (GBIF) a government-funded global network providing open access data on biodiversity.
They found a sharp decline in bee species recorded since 1990, with around 25 percent fewer species reported between 2006 and 2015 than before the 1990s.
While this doesn’t mean these species are extinct, it may indicate that some have become so rare that they are no longer regularly seen in the wild.
“Thanks to citizen science and the ability to share data, records are increasing exponentially, but the number of species reported in these records is decreasing,” said Eduardo Zattara, senior author and biologist at Universidad Nacional del Comahue and Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research. “It’s not a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees aren’t really booming.”
A separate series of scientific studies on the global decline of insects this month warned that the abundance of insects was declining by 10 to 20 percent every decade, an “absolutely frightening” loss that threatened to “tear the tapestry of life”.
In the United States, a study in 2020 found that the lack of bees in agricultural areas limited the supply of certain food crops. In Britain, the government this month allowed farmers to use neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops while bee-killing pesticides have been banned throughout the EU in 2018 with UK support.
The new study, which is published in the journal A land, analyzed the archives of three centuries of collections comprising more than 20,000 bee species known in the world.
He revealed that the declines were not evenly distributed among bee families. While the records of Halictide bees, the second most common family, have declined by 17 percent since the 1990s, those Melittidae– A much rarer family – fell more than 41 percent.
Scientists have warned that the lack of scientific data on insect decline in tropical countries is hampering their understanding of the global bee decline, with most of the GBIF records covering North America and Europe.
The study authors acknowledged that the decline in species may in part reflect changes in GBIF’s data collection over time or the heterogeneity of its data sets.
Zattara said that while their study did not establish the status of individual bee species, it showed a clear global trend with a decrease in species diversity likely to indicate a global decline in bees and other pollinators. .
“It’s about confirming that what is happening locally is happening around the world,” he said. “And also, that much better certainty will be achieved as more data is shared with public databases.”
He warned that waiting for additional data to more accurately confirm bee type and other pollinator declines could be too late to save them.
“Something is happening to the bees and something has to be done. We can’t wait to have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in the natural sciences, ”he said. “The next step is to get decision-makers to act while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.
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