TIME Magazine has dubbed honey bees as ‘a critical component to agricultural production,’ with honey bee population rising by 3% to 2.89 million as of 2017. Throughout the years, scientists have noted that the reasons for honey bee colony collapse is due to pesticides, mites and other pests, weather and starvation. However, it is the comeback of honey bees that has severely impacted the survival of other pollinators. Although the article discusses the possible cause of the 90% decline in pollinator population being the use of pesticide, the pathogen spillover from honey bees has become the main reason for this.
Nature Magazine has stated ‘the prevalence of deformed wing virus (DWV) and the exotic Nosema ceranae is linked between honey bees and bumble bees, with honey bees having higher BWV prevalence, and sympatric bumble bees and honey bees sharing DWV strains; Apis (honey bees) is therefore the likely source of at least one major EID (emerging infectious diseases) in wild pollinators.’ As a result, the bumble bee population has had a drastic decline, the population plummeting 87% since the 1990s. As of 2017, bumble bees are now listed as an endangered species. Furthermore, this issue has resulted in honey bees suppressing a number of native pollinator species, including wild bees and Monarch butterflies.
This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that ‘honey bees can also have a negative impact on the reproductive success of wild plants and even depress non pollinator species,’ as described by zoologist Dr Jonas Geldmann. Their negative impact on wild plants is a result of the unnatural migration towards mass-flowering crops. Through this, honey bees are creating unhealthy competition as other pollinators suffer. The fact that they are also raised in honey bee farms worsen this situation as they are able to reproduce without the interference of other natural disasters, whereas other pollinators have to naturally fend for themself.
The loss of pollinators can severely impact the ecosystem as their pollination allows plants to reproduce, decreasing our carbon impact and allow us to have a food source from crops. As senior director of Environment America Christy Leavitt has described it, ‘if bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food.’
However, there are ways you can support wild bees.
Avoid using pesticides
Not only are pesticides poisonous to native bees, it can also negatively impact the flowering stages of plants. As a result, bees are not able to pollinate these plants.
Set up a bee bath
Providing bees open water as a water source can result in drowning. Include pebbles inside a bird bath or wet sand so bees can stay hydrated. You can also set up a DIY version of a bee bath.
Creating a border out of native flowers
Not only does this increase pollination of your fruits and vegetables, it also allows bees to pollinate other plants when crops aren’t in season. This can be done by creating a border between your fruit and vegetable plants out of native and exotic flowers. This also attracts other pollinators such as wasps as they enjoy a variety of flowers.
There are a number of organisations that support the population of other pollinators. Increasing awareness, especially on National Don’t Step On a Bee Day on July 10 can help promote creating bee-friendly gardens. You can find more information about this on another blog post.
Pollinator Partnership is an organisation that aims to support the health of other pollinators. For those in the US, Pollinator Partnership can give you the opportunity to volunteer. Nevertheless, Pollinator Partnership has provided an extensive list on how you can get involved in your local community. You can also help by joining the Bumble Bee Watch, where you can upload photos of North America’s bumble bees, allowing researchers to take note of the status and help identify rare bee species. Similarly, you can join The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, where you can find local monitoring sites and help update the status on wild monarch eggs. You can also register your own site to monitor monarch eggs. Note: this project is only available in the US.
For Australian viewers, you can get involved by joining the Wild Pollinator Count, similar to the Bumble Bee Watch except the project is open to various pollinator species.
Bjerga, A., ‘Honeybees Ravaged by ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ Are Making a Huge Comeback,’ TIME, 3 August 2017
Fürst, M. A., McMahon, D. P., Osborne, J. L., Paxton, R. J., Brown, M. J. F., ‘Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators,’ Nature 506, pp. 364- 366, 19 February 2014
Geldmann, J., ‘Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife,’ Science Vol. 359 Issue 6374, pp. 392-393, 26 January 2018
Gregory, A., ‘10 ways to support Australian native bees in your backyard,’ 1 Million Women, 3 November 2016
Holland, S. J., ‘9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home,’ National Geographic, 24 May 2015
Rice, D., ‘Bumblebee listed as endangered species for first time,’ USA Today, 10 January 2017
Thomson, J. D. Otterstater, M. C., ‘Contact networks and transmission of an intestinal pathogen in bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) colonies,’ Oecology Vol. 154 Issue 2, pp. 411-421, 23 August 2007
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