Amidst growing concerns about the future of food production and security in Asia, a consortium of 74 scientists hailing from 13 countries across the continent and beyond has issued a resounding alarm: the region’s indispensable bee pollinators, responsible for sustaining 15% of the world’s known bee species, could be facing a catastrophic decline. This warning, backed by extensive research, highlights the crucial role of bees in supporting agriculture and underscores the urgent need for conservation efforts to safeguard their vital services.
While bees are pivotal links in the food production chain, particularly for the vast population living across Asia, alarmingly few species have been subjected to thorough study or assessment regarding their range, numbers, and conservation status.
The scientists argue that this knowledge gap has dire consequences, potentially leading to the loss of these crucial pollinators due to escalating habitat destruction driven by urbanization, pollutants, invasive species, climate change, and other human-driven forces.
Dr Michael Orr, an esteemed entomologist from Germany’s Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart and a leading author, in his latest article Biological Conservation emphasizes the urgent need for action. He says that while prior bee studies have originated largely in high-income nations, their results have consistently underscored the need for enhanced conservation and management strategies to halt or reverse bee population declines. “In Asia, where native bees play an ecologically and economically pivotal role, understanding and maintaining bee diversity is imperative for sustainable regional development.”
The urgency of this call to action is further underscored by the fact that Asian bee species make up only 1% of available records, despite comprising a significant 15% of the world’s known bee species. To address this alarming disparity, Dr Orr, who is also a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Wild Bee Specialist Group (Asia), alongside affiliations with ecological societies in Beijing and America, advocates for a focused conservation strategy targeting flagship social bee species like native honey bees, bumble bees, and stingless bees. These flagship species are crucial for effective conservation messaging and can serve as catalysts for broader efforts to safeguard the remaining 85-90% of non-social bee species.
Moreover, solitary flagship bees, such as the Indonesian Megachile pluto, the world’s largest bee, are facing their own critical challenges. Despite being classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, this colossal species is regularly traded online to Western buyers for exorbitant sums, further exacerbating its precarious status.
The scientists’ proposed remedies extend beyond national borders, advocating for trans-border collaborations to address the complex political dynamics of the region. Prioritizing the restoration of threatened or intact habitats is another vital step forward, as pervasive threats like land conversion for palm oil production and widespread agricultural expansion continue to loom.
Dr James Dorey, a co-author from Flinders University, underscores the collaborative nature of the solutions required. In an emailed statement to the news agency KNT, he opined that repairing these divisions demands science and research collaborations, but equally important is the open sharing of specimens and data. “Ecological studies at national and regional levels are critical to comprehend the most effective strategies for maintaining pollinator communities and the ecosystem services they provide.”
As the situation intensifies, the scientists emphasize that comprehensive conservation endeavours must adopt a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach. These efforts should seamlessly integrate fields, methodologies, and expertise across governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations, and research institutions.
Only through concerted and collective action can the scientific insights translate into practical applications that ensure effective conservation management for bee populations across Asia. The stakes are undeniably high, as the fate of Asia’s food supply rests in the delicate balance of its bee pollinators. (KNT)