The economic value of insect pollinators was $34 billion in the U.S. in 2012, much higher than previously thought, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University.

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The team also found that areas that are economically most reliant on insect pollinators are the same areas where pollinator habitat and forage quality are poor.

“Pollinators like bees play an extremely important role in agriculture,” explained senior author Vikas Khanna, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The insects that pollinate farmers’ crops underpin our ecosystem biodiversity and function, human nutrition, and even economic welfare.”

But some of those busy little bees are headed for crisis—one-third of managed honey bee colonies die each winter in the U.S., and populations of many wild pollinator species are showing declines as well.

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