Honeybees, the buzzy crop-pollinators so vital to world agriculture, have had a rough couple of years. The UK alone has lost 45 percent of its commercial honeybees since 2010, due to a variety of factors that range from habitat loss to pesticide use and an invasion of bee-eating hornets.
But the winged insects' luck could be about to change. And it's all down to a new bee-protecting app for farmers.
Yesterday, researchers at the University of Vermont announced plans for an app that allows farmers to virtually trial methods of encouraging bees to thrive and pollinate crops on their land. Users simply input land management scenarios—such as planting more flowers or erecting windbreaks in fields—and the app calculates the potential crop productivity, benefit to bees, and cost of the simulated bee-saving measure.
Researchers unveiled the project at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference on bee pollination and food production. It comes a week after the same Vermont University team published the first map of wild bees in the US, which showed widespread decline of the species. They hope that the app, which has been developed with a Philadelphia-based software company and is released later this year, will help reverse bee population losses.
Taylor Ricketts, environment and natural resources professor at Vermont University and co-leader of the app project, explained in a press release that farmers have a vital role to play in ensuring the wild bee's survival. He said: "Government action is key, but saving bees requires more than that. Leadership from the private sector, especially farmers and agricultural businesses, is crucial. Their choices will have a huge impact on whether pollinators fail or flourish. [The app] gives farmers a chance to help with an issue that directly impacts their businesses."
The survival of wild bees is in the interests of farmers, too. Thirty nine percent of crops in the US are pollinator-dependent, a figure that rises to 70 percent in the UK. Without bees, our ability to produce food for an ever-increasing global population will only get worse.
Let's hope that when the Vermont researchers' app launches later this year, it'll be a rare piece of good news for the ailing wild bee population.