The United Kingdom (UK) is home to hundreds of different species of pollinators, one-fourth of which have now disappeared from their original habitats across the region. Since the 1980s, one-third of the bee and overfly populations have severely declined.
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The important role played by these insects, in areas such as food production and biodiversity, is being threatened. This is especially concerning for the UK since these insects contribute almost US$787 million to the economy annually.
Causes for the declining populations are being attributed to industrial farming, pesticide use, disease, invasive species and climate change.
“That is perhaps unsurprising. You’ve got ever-infested agricultural systems, you’ve got loss of key habitats nationally, you’ve got climate change … there is a myriad of pressures impacting on these populations," study author Dr. Ben Woodcock stated.
The factors not only affect the insects but also agricultural produce which they help cultivate.
Since 1980, researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have been collecting data which is now being used to assess the fate of the over 350 species of pollinating insects.
While one-tenth of the species shows signs of population increase, including those that contribute the most to the pollination of crops, Woodcock warns of a "worrying" overall trend that could result in mass extinctions.
Though populations of key pollinators remain steady for now, the loss of rare species weakens Britain's biodiversity.
“It’s a process of homogenization and leaves us with a natural world that is far poorer and less resilient to change,” pollinator expert at the University of East Anglia, Dr. Lynn Dicks, said.
The upland regions have seen the most devastating results, with 55% of the range losing bee and hoverfly populations as a result of shifts in climate. However, the widespread declines have been mainly attributed to the "toxic effects of landscape-wide neonicotinoid use," Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of campaign organization Buglife, explained.
A total ban of neonicotinoids, a widely used group of insecticide, has been in effect since late 2018.
Researchers have pinpointed the trend, but more research is needed before confirming the causes of population decline, as well as the true scale of the potential loss, which could be much greater than the study suggests due to its limitations.
Despite fears, Dr. Nick Isaac of the study says they, "know quite a lot about how to mitigate those declines in terms of habitat management, so it's not inevitable."