Latest Buzz: Finding Solutions to the Bee Population Crisis
Bees might not be a very popular insect, thanks to those painful stingers and their love of the fruits on our picnic plates, but they play a critical role in the health and well-being of our entire planet. As a key pollinating species, bees play an essential role in the reproduction of many plants. Without them, those plants would disappear, and without plants to produce oxygen, life on Earth would come to an end.
Additionally, some of those plants pollinated by bees produce many of the healthy foods we enjoy. Bees might annoy us, but we need them, and it’s essential to prevent their populations from declining any further. So, what is the current state of the bee crisis? Let’s take a look!
Why Are We Concerned About Bees?
Scientists have expressed concern about the rapidly declining bee populations during the last 10 to 15 years. Many people may wonder why bees are such a big deal. After all, they sometimes sting us, and a percentage of the population is actually allergic to the stings. Not to mention, they have ruined countless picnics throughout human history.
Why Are Pollinators So Important?
Pollinators are species that help with plant reproduction by removing pollen from male structures of the plant and transferring them to the female structures. This movement is a key part of the fertilization process for plants. As with humans, fertilization and reproduction are necessary to the continued survival of plant species.
Bee Populations Are Declining Rapidly
Numerous statistics and trends point to a drastic decline in the bee population in recent years. In the United States, there were as many as 5.7 million honey bee colonies during the 1940s. By 2015, however, that number had dropped drastically to 2.74 million.
What Is Colony Collapse Disorder?
Colony Collapse Disorder is the name given to the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony leave. These worker bees abnormally leave the colony, despite the continued presence of a still-living queen, food and a fully functioning colony structure.
Other Pollinator Species Are in Decline
Bees are not the only pollinators that scientists are concerned about right now. In fact, there are several thousands of species of pollinators, but many of those populations are also in serious decline. In addition to bees, butterfly species are being closely monitored as their populations have experienced significant decreases as well in recent years.
What Is Causing Bee Population Declines?
A number of factors are behind the decline in global bee populations, but perhaps the most significant is industrial agriculture causing a loss of biodiversity that creates changes in the bees' environment and habitats. Humans continue to develop more areas, and that means more pesticides, herbicides and harmful chemicals.
Bee-Killing Pesticides Are a Problem
Neonicotinoid pesticides are generally considered to be the biggest bee killers of all the pesticides. The problem with these types of pesticides is that they are widely used, and any regulations related to them are scarce. Cause and effect relationships in environmental issues are notoriously hard to determine.
Bee Declines Could Lead to Higher Global Food Prices
Scientists have raised the alarm that a decline in the global bee population also means a rise in global food prices, as the number of bees pollinating crops continues to decline. In particular, honey bees have been identified as one of the most important agricultural commodities for farming.
Other Parts of the Economy Will Also Suffer
Beyond the immediate hit to grocery bills, the bigger problem with rising global food costs is that it has trickle-down effects on the rest of the economy. Food prices happen to have a very significant impact on the economy as a whole, because everyone needs food to live, and they need money to obtain it.
Climate Change Is Impacting Bee Populations
While pesticides have been proven to play a large role, the bee population decline is still a multifaceted problem that stems from different parts of human development. As our society grows and expands, it reduces biodiversity and changes the planet in a variety of ways.
Loss of Habitat Is Impacting Bee Populations
In addition to climate change and agricultural pesticides, another factor impacting bee populations is a decline in habitats. Every time we pave over a natural area to put up a building, it reduces pollinator habitat.
Global Efforts to Help Are Just Getting Started
Fortunately for the bees and the people who rely on their pollinating, some people are making an effort globally to help improve this situation. In the summer of 2018, the European Union banned the use of several neonicotinoid pesticides outdoors but didn’t ban their use inside greenhouses. It’s still a start.
Smart-World Technology Can Be Used to Monitor Bee Activity and Behavior
Researchers have also started developing technologically-focused solutions as well. In particular, the World Bee Project and Oracle have collaborated on a new technique to monitor bee populations using artificial intelligence and data visualization. The aim is to give researchers new insights into how bees interact with their environments.
Amsterdam Is Working to Help Its Bees
As this is an issue that individual citizens can focus on as well, cities and towns around the world are developing local policies intended to have a positive impact on the bee population. A perfect example of a city doing all they can to help bees is the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.
Bees Are Delivering Bee-Friendly Pesticides
A company named Bee Vector Technology based out of Canada has developed a pesticide named Vectorite that has been deemed safe by the EPA and other organizations determined to protect bees. That all sounds good, but then the company announced how they plan to deliver this bee-friendly pesticide to crops: The bees will deliver it themselves.
Regenerative Agricultural Practices Can Restore Bee Populations
Environmentalists are recommending that farmers switch to a form of agriculture they are calling regenerative agriculture. This type of farming is different from monoculture farming, in which large fields of land are used to grow a single crop. Monoculture farming reduces biodiversity and prevents agricultural land from being a good habitat for pollinators.
The World Bee Project Is Ready to Make Changes
Numerous environmental organizations have noticed the problem of declining bee populations. We rely on bees, and we certainly rely on the food they help produce. Many environmental and conservation organizations decided to get involved, and entirely new organizations have even been created just to focus on this issue.
How Can You Help Bee Populations?
While global efforts and governmental efforts are underway to address this problem, it’s an issue that every individual on the planet can work to improve. One easy way to make a difference is to stop using pesticides at home that could be harmful to bees.
Purchase Local Organic Honey
Bees are known for making honey, and you can also help fight global declining bee populations by consuming this delicious product. The key is to purchase locally produced organic honey instead of purchasing jarred honey from grocery stores.
Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden
In addition to avoiding pesticide use and purchasing local honey, another way you can have a positive impact on declining global bee populations as a concerned citizen is by planting a bee-friendly garden on your property. This type of garden requires a bit of work and planning, however.
Choose the Best Plants for Bees
Numerous plants and flowers can be grown in your garden to have a positive impact on bee populations. These include crocuses, dandelions, bee balm, lavender, chives, sunflowers, zinnias, Russian sage, thyme and oregano. You can also grow some bee-popular low-growing flowers, such as clover patches.
Avoid Growing a Full Lawn
One method to help support the bee population actually requires very little effort at all. By simply not planting a grass lawn on your property, you help create more bee-friendly habitat. It may sound strange, but freshly cut grass lawns don’t provide good habitats for bees and other pollinators.
Leave Weeds in Your Garden
Your neighbors may be appalled, but one really simple way you can help your garden be a better home for bees and other pollinators is to not remove all the weeds. There will be a few gardening aficionados out there who will be horrified at the visual look of a garden with weeds, but if your goal is to provide a habitat for pollinators, then leave those weeds in there — at least some of them.
Install a Water Basin on Your Balcony or Garden
Now, based on the above advice, you have a lovely, large garden on your property, and you haven’t removed all the weeds so the biodiversity can really thrive. There's one other thing you still need to do to make your garden an ideal pollinator habitat, however.
Grow Flower-Producing Crops
You can also help support and improve the bee population by growing vegetables that produce flowers, such as squash and pumpkins, in your garden. While bees and other pollinators may not interact directly with the squash or the pumpkin, they will help the flowers those crops create reproduce and make seeds.
Educate Yourself on Bees
One thing every concerned citizen should do regarding the declining bee population is learn more about bees and the role they play in our ecosystem. We tend to view bees as pests, as buzzy little creatures that can sting us and cause other problems. We don't focus much on the idea that bees are a necessary species on our planet.
Support Further Research on Bees
Just educating yourself about bee populations is good, but if you want to go even further in promoting positive change, the best thing you can do is support scientific research on this issue. The World Bee Project and numerous environmental organizations put a lot of funding into research to help us better understand bee behavior and adjust our agricultural practices accordingly.
Support Government Actions to Save Bees
Much of what is being done to help save the bee populations is being done by governments around the world. Because a declining bee population has the potential to raise food prices and cause widespread economic fallout, political leaders are highly motivated to take action on this issue.
Record Your Bumblebee Sightings
Collecting data on bee populations is incredibly difficult. Bees are fast-moving, small insects that are not prone to responding to census questions. One thing you can do to help expand the reach of data and knowledge in this area is to record your own bumblebee sightings and register them with an organization called Bumblebee Watch.
Become a Beekeeper
One major way that anyone can play a positive role in helping protect bee populations is to become a beekeeper yourself. You could support local bee farmers by purchasing local organic honey, or you could be that beekeeper yourself!