Lab Canada

Genetic extinction of bees could ultimately threaten food supply

Toronto, ON – Crops and flowers that rely on pollination for their yields could be in peril as more than 1,000 species of bees in Canada, and 20,000 species worldwide, are facing the possibility of genetically-induced extinction. The findings are according to research by York University doctoral candidate Amro Zayed and professor Laurence Packer, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences US.

"The value of bees in crop pollination is more than $1 billion in Canada, and $15 billion in the U.S.A. annually," says Amro Zayed. "The ecological value of bees, however, is priceless. Pollination is an important link in the web of life. Global declines in bees will reduce the diversity of plants that need bees for reproduction. Almost all terrestrial ecosystems depend on bees."

Dr Packer notes that bees are the most important pollinators of agricultural crops and wild flowers. "One out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends directly upon pollination," he says. “Our results help us understand why it is that so many bee populations have crashed in recent years, and these declines have been observed across the globe as well as in Canada.”

The researchers have discovered that bees are ten times more likely to go extinct than previously thought and ten times more likely to go extinct than other animals. "This happens because the sex determining system in bees can turn females into useless sterile males in small populations," says Zayed. “[This] means that a small population is likely to be doomed to extinction.”

"Bees are the agricultural equivalent of canaries in a coal mine and their death signifies a much larger problem," says Dr Packer. "We have to make sure that we keep bee populations large a lot larger than anybody has previously thought in order to ensure that we have bees to pollinate our crops and flowers for generations to come."