Nearly one in 10 European wild bee species is facing the threat of extinction, according to the first assessment of the continent's bee populations, published Thursday.
As environmentalists have long noted, bees and other pollinators are essential to the world's food supply, farming system, and environment. However, both in Europe and the U.S., they have been threatened by industrial agriculture practices, insecticides, and climate change, which causes more heavy rainfalls, droughts, and heat waves that can harm bees and their access to food.
Bees are vital to food production but are in decline in many parts of the world. There are 1,965 wild bee species in Europe and 9.2 percent of them are at risk of extinction while another 5.2 percent are likely to be threatened in the near future, according to the international study, funded by the European Commission.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also said its study showed that 57 percent of all European bee species, which include types of bumblebees, honey bees and solitary bees, were so little known that it was impossible to judge whether they were at risk or not.
The implications of the study are quite troubling, said Karmenu Vella, head of the EU's Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commission.
"Our quality of life—and our future—depends on the many services that nature provides for free," Vella said. "Pollination is one of these services, so it is very worrying to learn that some of our top pollinators are at risk. If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline in wild bees, and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed."
Environmental watchdogs such as Ariel Brunner, the head of EU policy at BirdLifeEurope, say the report should serve as "a wake up call to the ecological disaster that is unfolding in Europe's countryside."
Brunner told the Guardian, "It's very clear that something is going horribly wrong with our agricultural practices which are the main driver of these declines, whether it is increased pesticide use, the destruction and conversion of grasslands, or the loss of natural vegetation and intensified farming methods."
Echoing those remarks, Mark Brown of the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, told the BBC: "Bees need to be incorporated into how we think about and develop sustainable agriculture."
To that end, earlier this week, a coalition of U.S.-based conservation and food-safety groups submitted a formal notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to consider the highly toxic impacts of a new systemic insecticide, flupyradifurone, on native pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The new insecticide would be especially harmful to imperiled, solitary bees like the blue orchard bee, the groups noted.