The conservation and restoration of wild bees

Authors


Address for correspondence: Rachael Winfree, Department of Entomology, 93 Lipman Drive, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 USA. rwinfree@rutgers.edu

Abstract

Bees pollinate most of the world's wild plant species and provide economically valuable pollination services to crops; yet knowledge of bee conservation biology lags far behind other taxa such as vertebrates and plants. There are few long-term data on bee populations, which makes their conservation status difficult to assess. The best-studied groups are the genus Bombus (the bumble bees), and bees in the EU generally; both of these are clearly declining. However, it is not known to what extent these groups represent the approximately 20,000 species of bees globally. As is the case for insects in general, bees are underrepresented in conservation planning and protection efforts. For example, only two bee species are on the global IUCN Red List, and no bee is listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, even though many bee species are known to be in steep decline or possibly extinct. At present, bee restoration occurs mainly in agricultural contexts, funded by government programs such as agri-environment schemes (EU) and the Farm Bill (USA). This is a promising approach given that many bee species can use human-disturbed habitats, and bees provide valuable pollination services to crops. However, agricultural restorations only benefit species that persist in agricultural landscapes, and they are more expensive than preserving natural habitat elsewhere. Furthermore, such restorations benefit bees in only about half of studied cases. More research is greatly needed in many areas of bee conservation, including basic population biology, bee restoration in nonagricultural contexts, and the identification of disturbance-sensitive bee species.

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