Red areas show regions where the need for fertilization is the highest, but number of wild bees is lowest. (credit: University of Vermont)

In the first-ever study that uses data modeling to track the populations of wild bees in the US, scientists have uncovered a disturbing trend. Bee populations are dropping in the regions of the country that need them most.

Dozens of staple foods depend on bees for pollination, including almonds, apples, berries, potatoes, onions, and broccoli. Because of declining bee populations in the past decade, farmers have come to depend more on domestic honey bees to keep their crops thriving. But as University of Vermont environmental planner Inso Koh and his colleagues point out in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, wild bees are also crucial, accounting for at least 20 percent of bee pollination.

These wild bees also require large areas of grassland for their habitats. And those habitats are vanishing, as more farmers turn grassland into agricultural ecosystems devoted to corn, soy, and other crops that aren't dependent on bees as pollinators.

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