The plight of wild honey bees is a topic we have covered time and again, as the little winged agricultural assistants continue to disappear. Some 30 percent of bee populations are dying off each year, largely as the result of neonicotinoid insecticides used on crops. University of Vermont researchers have used data modeling to track the populations of wild bees in the United States for the first time ever, and their work has resulted in a map illustrating which counties will suffer most from declining bee numbers. The map shows the areas which need the highest levels of fertilization are also the regions where bee populations are at record lows. Effectively, this means the bees are disappearing where their pollination services are needed the most, marking a new and disturbing trend that could endanger food supplies.

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The map comes out of research conducted by UV environmental planner Insu Koh and his colleagues. Their findings, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paint a grim picture of the future of agriculture. Wild bees, which make up around 20 percent of the bee population, are crucial for pollinating a wide variety of crops, including almonds, apples, berries, potatoes, onions, and broccoli. Farmers have had to rely on domestic bees since populations of wild bees have been in decline, but the effort hasn’t been enough to make up for the losses.

Related: Stressed out young bees contribute to colony collapse disorder

Koh and his research team found wild bee populations have declined in 23 percent of the U.S. over the past several years. The team also worked to project future losses, showing 39 percent of croplands that depend on bee pollination are in areas where wild bee numbers are shrinking.

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Honey bee populations have been on the decline for years, with no end in sight. After the second highest bee die-off in history was recorded in 2014, efforts around the world to save the little buzzers have escalated. Some of the wildest measures to help bees include a ‘bee highway’ in Norway and ‘pro-bee-otics’ intended to protect the pollinators against pesticides. Although neonicotinoids are a primary factor in bee die-offs, other changing environmental conditions are making it even more difficult for bees to eke out their survival. Climate change has been linked with flowers losing their scent, which makes it harder for bees to find them.

Via Ars Technica

Images via University of Vermont (maps) and Lucas Zallio/Flickr