The U.N. expressed alarm at a huge decline in bee colonies under a multiple onslaught of pests and pollution, urging an international effort to save the pollinators that are vital for food crops.
Much of the decline, ranging up to 85 percent in some areas, is taking place in the industrialized northern hemisphere due to more than a dozen factors, according to a report by the UN's environmental agency.
They include pesticides, air pollution, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that only affects bee species in the northern hemisphere, mismanagement of the countryside, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe.
"The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.
"The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees," he added.
Wild bees and especially honey bee colonies from hives are regarded as the most prolific pollinators of large fields or crops.
Overall, pollinators are estimated to contribute 153 billion euros ($212 billion) worldwide or 9.5 percent of the total value of food production, especially fruit and vegetables, according to the report.
Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 percent in Europe, 30 percent in the United States,and up to 85 percent in Middle East, said scientist Peter Neumann, one of the authors of the first ever UN report on the issue.