Britain needs 'super-sub bees' to maintain food supply

Externalin Conservation & Ecology

Rare bees and insects must be protected to give British farmers a strong 'reserve squad' of pollinating species and prevent potential food shortages in the future, scientists say

Researchers at the University of Reading, funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, say that while most crops are pollinated by only a small number of bee varieties, conservation efforts should be aimed at a wider number of species - even those that currently contribute little to crop pollination - in order to maintain biodiversity and ensure future food security.

Improving bee diversity in Britain would provide farmers and consumers with an insurance policy against future ecological shocks, such as climate change, the scientists say.

Professor Simon Potts, director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) at the University of Reading, said: "The few bee species that currently pollinate our crops are unlikely to be the same types we will need in the future.

"It is critical to protect a wide range of bees and other insects now so that, as Britain's climate, environment and crop varieties change, we can call on the pollinating species which are best suited to the task.

"We can't just rely on our current starting line-up of pollinators. We need a large and diverse group of species on the substitutes' bench, ready to join the game as soon as they are needed, if we are to ensure food production remains stable."

The call comes as new research, published today in the journal Nature Communications, shows that some of the most endangered insect pollinators are considered virtually valueless by simple economic measures of the natural environment, which only consider present-day agricultural and environmental needs.

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Conservation & ecology

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