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World's bees face multiple threats

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The United Nations has suggested that the world's bees face multiple threats and unless something is done to halt their decline, there could be serious long-term consequences for food supplies.

The last few years have seen bee populations hit hard, with "colony collapse disorder" making headlines as scientists struggle to pinpoint the cause of fatalities.

Suggestions have ranged from fungal attack to pesticides, but the UN has concluded it is probably a combination of factors, also including air pollution, climate change and the decline in flowering plants.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Colony Disorders and other Threats to Insect Pollinators, "underlines that multiple factors are at work linked with the way humans are rapidly changing the conditions and the ground rules that support life on Earth".

UNEP head Achim Steiner said: "The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.

"Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature's services in a world of close to seven billion people."

Report lead author Peter Neumann told Reuters: "It's the tip of the iceberg we're seeing with the honey bees. There is not an immediate pollination disaster but the writing is on the wall. We have to do something to ensure pollination for future generations."

UNEP's strategy for tackling the problem includes an increase in eco-friendly farming, caution in the use of pesticides and better management of man-made hives.

Neumann concluded: "This report underlines that a variety of factors are making these man-made colonies increasingly vulnerable to decline and collapse. We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to cost-effectively recover wild bee populations to far healthier and more sustainable levels."

The full-fat report is available here (PDF). ®

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