Organic farming practices can help save pollinator populations, according to recently published research in Biological Conservation. The study, conducted by Swedish researchers at Lund University over three years, shows that the absence of toxic pesticides associated with conventional farming can contribute to increased health and stable populations of bees and butterflies.
“This is the first large-scale study over the course of several years to show that organic farming has a consistent, stabilizing effect on pollinator diversity,” Romain Carrié, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at CEC, tells Beyond Pesticides.
The researchers examined ten organic and nine conventional farms across Sweden, finding that the organic farms sustained a higher rate of pollinator diversity. The research showed that improved floral resources had the most significant benefits for pollinator health, and, further, that organic farms had more floral diversity than conventional farms.
“This strongly suggests that both flower-enhancing management options and a reduced use of insecticides can help reverse pollinator declines,” Dr. Carrié says.
From the Organic Authority Files
Between 2016 and 2017, American beekeepers lost 33 percent of the honeybees, according to the University of Maryland, and this study is only the latest that shows the benefits of organic farming on pollinator health.
One recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that glyphosate, an herbicide used on some conventional farms produced by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup, can damage a bee’s microbiome, leaving the pollinators more prone to infection.
"Honeybees rely on these bacteria for food processing, regulation of host immune system, and protection against pathogens,” Erick Motta, a graduate student who led the study at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Newsweek. "So, changes in this microbial community may favor the spread of opportunistic bacteria, usually found at very low abundances in the bee gut. This spread can result in disease and bee death, based on our experiments."
Recent research has also associated widespread bee death with neonicotinoid pesticides, including one 2017 study published in Science showing that bees who were exposed to neonicotinoids died earlier than their peers.
In April 2018, the European Union banned the use of the three most commonly used neonicotinoids on all outdoor crops. Some research, however, shows that conventional alternatives to neonicotinoids, like pyrethroids, might be even worse for bees.
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