Without bees, many of the food crops in the United States would not even exist! In the US alone, honey bees are responsible for the pollination of $15 billion worth of crop . Pollination is a critical process in plants, allowing for the reproduction of plants, resulting in the next generation of crops. Plants are a critical part of our food chain and a source of food for all herbivores. Plants are also responsible for the purification of the atmosphere as they take in carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen. Therefore, bees are indirectly responsible for our ability to eat and breath!
Bee populations are declining at alarming rates in recent years. The Smithsonian Magazine reports that bee populations declined just five to ten percent annually in the 1980s, but recent years have seen annual declines from 22 to 30 percent. Populations are declining due to a variety of factors including habitat destruction, pesticides, disease, and a changing climate.
Studies indicate that bee territories have shrunk by nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe primarily due to human encroachment as more land is developed for housing, commerce, and agriculture. Consequently, the habitat ranges for the honeybees have become smaller and they are challenged as to where they should set their hives. Unlike other insects like butterflies that easily adapt to new habitat ranges, some bee species like bumblebees rarely shift their habitat. Thus, habitat loss may eventually result in the extinction of some species of bees.
Increased habitat loss has led to native bees experiencing a significantly greater threat to extinction than ever before. Of the nearly 30,000 species of bees across the world, most native bee species are dependent upon a particular plant species for survival. The destruction of the bees’ particular habitat is a near certain death sentence for many bee species that are not suited to migration. Examples of the most threatened native bee species include yellow carpet solitary bee, sunflower leaf-cutting bee, wild sweet potato bee, and Gulf Coast solitary bee.
Bees are particularly vulnerable to some species of gut and mite parasites that thrive in warm temperatures. One of the glaring effects of climate change is the increase in temperatures and shorter cold seasons. These high temperatures mean that bees are at greater risk of diseases and parasites now than they were before due to climate change.
In their role as pollinators, timing is crucial for bees. The time of spring flowering and the hatching of bee larvae must coincide for successful pollination to take place. Usually, bees come out of winter hibernation at exactly the same time when flowers begin to bloom. Warmer temperatures in recent years have resulted in earlier snow melts and earlier bloom periods that occur before the bees start to emerge. If the flowers are available and there are no bees around to pollinate them, a mismatch occurs. This loss of synchronicity between bees and the flowering plants results in a decrease in seed production and plant reproduction, resulting in a food shortage for the bee population.
Three Ways To Help Bees:
- Plant a Bee Garden. Create a habitat for bees with plants that are rich in pollen and nectar. Bees are drawn to single flowers with one ring of petals where the central part of the flower is easily accessible. You don’t need a ton of space to grow bee-friendly plants — gardens can be established across yards and in window boxes, flowerpots, and planters.
- Go Chemical-Free for Bees. Bees are insects so synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, and neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, wreaking havoc on their sensitive systems. Avoid treating your garden and green spaces with synthetics. Instead, use organic products and natural solutions such as compost to aid soil health and add beneficial insects that keep pests away, such as ladybugs and praying mantises.
- Plant a tree. When a tree blooms, it provides hundreds and thousands of blossoms from which bees can feed. In fact, bees get most of their nectar from trees! Trees are not only a great food source for bees, but are also an essential habitat. Tree leaves and resin provide nesting material for bees, while natural wood cavities make excellent shelters.
For more ways to help bees visit www.theBeeConservancy.org.