Bees, other pollinators may be declining in U.S.

WASHINGTON, Oct 18, 2006 (Reuters) – Bees and other important pollinators such as birds and bats may be on the decline in the United States, putting crops and other plants at risk, experts reported on Wednesday.

But there is not enough information to determine how bad the problem is, the National Research Council said in a report.

Research has suggested that pollinators are already in short supply in many parts of the world, and this could spell trouble for farmers and ecosystems alike, it said.

“Among the various pollinator groups, evidence for decline in North America is most compelling for the honey bee, Apis mellifera,” the report said.

A parasitic mite may be to blame in some cases. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and spreading populations of Africanized honeybees also are hurting North American honeybees, the report said.

Honeybees pollinate more than 90 commercially grown crops. For example, the report said, it takes about 1.4 million colonies of honeybees to pollinate California’s 550,000 acres (220,000 hectares) of almond trees.

“Despite its apparent lack of marquee appeal, a decline in pollinator populations is one form of global change that actually has credible potential to alter the shape and structure of terrestrial ecosystems,” said entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

She headed a National Research Council committee that recommended that the United States collaborate with Canada and Mexico to monitor populations of bees and other important pollinating creatures.

The evidence is more difficult to gather for other species, the report said, because so few people study the subject.

The report said two of the three U.S. bat species are now listed as endangered.

Butterfly species that pollinate plants and flowers are declining. The report said bird species known to pollinate plants may also be threatened or declining. No studies have been made to determine whether a species of wasp that pollinates figs is endangered, it said.

The National Research Council is one of the National Academies of Sciences — independent, nonprofit institutions chartered by the U.S. Congress to advise on science, technology, and health.