Research conducted by the University of Reading's Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, and funded by the EU FP7 project STEP and the Insect Pollinators Initiative Crops project, indicates that demand for pollination services has risen five times as fast as the number of colonies across Europe.
The study, led by Professor Simon Potts, compared the number of available honeybee colonies in 41 European countries with their demands for pollination services in the years 2005 and 2010. The findings indicate that, although the total number of honeybee colonies increased in some European countries, the demands for the pollination services supplied by these pollinators has increased much faster due to the increasing demand for biofuel feedstocks.
In just over half the countries studied, including the UK, France, Germany and Italy, honeybee stocks were found to be insufficient to supply these pollination services alone.
Dr Tom Breeze who conducted the research said "This study has shown that EU biofuel policy has had an unforeseen consequence in making us more reliant upon wild pollinators like bumblebees and hoverflies to meet demands for this basic ecosystem service." Adding "The results don't show that wild pollinators actually do all the work, but they do show we have less security if their populations should collapse."
The findings are of particular concern for the UK which the study suggests has now less than 25% of the honeybee colonies it needs. The only country with less security is the Republic of Moldova which is both the poorest country in Europe and the most reliant upon agriculture to provide its income.
The researchers also note that, if taken as a continuous region where colonies could move freely, Europe as a whole only has two thirds of the honeybee colonies it needs, with a deficit of over 13.6 million colonies.
Many of the most important crops in Europe, such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybeans, apples and strawberries benefit from pollination by insects. As these crops are likely to become increasingly important to agricultural economies the study highlights the importance of continuing research efforts by the University of Reading and other organisations to better understand the role of different pollinators in European agriculture.
The study, entitled "Agricultural Policies Exacerbate Honeybee Pollination Service Supply-Demand mismatches across Europe" is published in the journal PLOS ONE and is available for free download by anyone, anywhere:
Breeze TD, Vaissière BE, Bommarco R, Petanidou T, Seraphides N, et al. (2014) Agricultural Policies Exacerbate Honeybee Pollination Service Supply-Demand Mismatches Across Europe. PLoS ONE 9(1): e82996. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082996