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Global bee decline continues, and we are running out of time

Many consumers are concerned about the presence of toxic pesticides in their food, but few are aware of the effect that these harmful chemicals are having on ecosystems. Bees and other pollinators are essential to the world’s ecosystems and their decline presents some devastating predictions.

New research from the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen (UiB) is investigating the implications that insect and pollinator decline will have on society as a result of toxic pesticide usage. 

“What is at stake is nothing less than the world’s ecosystems and food production,” said Professor Jeroen van der Sluijs of the research center. He noted that data contained in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility database illustrates that the biodiversity of wild bees has decreased by 25 percent since 1990.

Wild bees are key pollinators to many plants, facilitating the formation of seeds and reproduction, and their decline presents a serious threat to these plants and their survival. 

“The decline in bees and other pollinators continues with increasing strength, and we are running out of time,” said Professor Van Der Sluijs. 

Researchers have been tracing the decline of insects due to the modern use of pesticides, toxic chemicals with high levels of usage that are currently being ignored by the European regulatory system. This is due to a common misconception that modern pesticides are far safer than they used to be, but Professor Van Der Sluijs says that this is simply not true.

His research demonstrates that environmental contamination from the “neonicotinoids” found in modern-day pesticides is linked to a decline in wild bee and other pollinator populations.

“One main reason why modern pesticides are not yet banned is that researchers have not taken enough responsibility for communicating the crucial expertise needed for governments and other decision-makers to make informed choices.” 

To combat this lack of responsibility and communication, Professor Van Der Sluijs is urging fellow researchers to take on the social responsibility, investigate the pesticide crisis and communicate the results to industries. However, the researcher is aware that this will be difficult.

“Assuming one’s social responsibility as a scientist is always an uphill struggle. The academic reward system pushes you to prioritize scientific impact over societal impact,” said Professor Van Der Sluijs. 

To communicate critically important knowledge and make a genuine impact, insect researchers must engage in transdisciplinary coalitions with governments, politicians, and industries. Through these relationships, Professor Van der Suijs believes that scientists may be able to bring their knowledge and awareness of early warning signals to the light of decision-makers.

The research is published in the journal Current Opinion in Insect Science.

By Calum Vaughan, Staff Writer

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