Plummeting pollinator population poses pernicious problem for people

The world’s insect biomass is quietly declining by an average of 1-2% every year. Populations of pollinating insects vital to the world’s food supply are in crisis, as one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on such creatures, especially bees, for a successful harvest.

Underscoring the looming “Insect Apocalypse,” a recent Cline Center study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that declining populations of pollinating insects received little attention relative to climate change in U.S. news outlets, and hardly any attention in international wire services. 

An interdisciplinary team consisting of Cline Center researchers and Professor May Berenbaum, the head of Entomology at the University of Illinois, used the Cline Center’s Global News Index to analyze nearly 25 million articles published by the New York TimesWashington Post, and four international wire services between 1977 and 2019.

Of these millions of stories, less than a thousand mentioned pollinator population losses. 

A more focused analysis of New York Times coverage revealed that although climate change stories now tend to be published in the front sections of the paper, stories mentioning pollinator populations tend to appear in less-visible sections.

Since news agendas shape policy agendas, continued lack of journalistic attention will hinder efforts to protect these vital insects.

The danger that the decline of bees and other pollinators represents to the world’s food supply was highlighted in 2013, when the European Commission decided to ban a class of pesticides suspected of playing a role in so-called “colony collapse disorder.”

US beekeepers lost 45.5 percent of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021, according to preliminary results of the 15th annual nationwide survey.

These losses mark the second highest loss rate the survey has recorded since it began in 2006 and highlight the continuing high rates of honey bee colony turnover.

Since beekeepers began noticing higher losses in their colonies in the early 2000s, agricultural agencies, researchers, and the beekeeping industry have been working together to understand why and develop best management practices to reduce their losses.

The BIP annual colony loss survey, which has been conducted since 2006, has been integral to that process.

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