Bees! / by The Green Medium

Hello dear readers! You have probably all heard by now about the thing with the bees - ie. their rapidly declining numbers and how important they are - but it is still an important issue and I personally still did not know too much about when I woke up this morning so that’s what I’m learning/writing about today. To begin with, bees are, if you didn’t know, massively important to our ecosystem: 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wildflowers need bees to thrive, which is to say that they are dependent wholly or to some extent on bees to survive and reproduce. Bees are basically essential in some way to probably about half of the food that we eat, which is why it is such a horrible thing that they have been dying off at up to 30 percent per year for the last decade or so. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers annual colony losses of 19 percent to be unsustainable.

Fortunately, since, as I’ve already mentioned, this issue got a lot of media attention a year or two ago, there is a fair amount of research on the subject and some examples of initiatives that have already been taken in North America. The general focus of research into the reason why bees are dying off so rapidly is a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids differ from other pesticides in that they are not applied as needed but instead they are used to coat seeds or drench crops so there are pest-killing chemicals ingrained within the plant throughout its whole life. These types of pesticides have become common practice in the industry, being used on over 140 different crops.Europe has outright banned the chemical unless a farmer can prove that it is absolutely necessary, while the U.S. and provinces in Canada have both released plans to severely cut down on the use of neonicotinoids and begin phasing them out.

However, while a large part of the discussion on the issue of bees remains rightfully centered on the use of pesticides (largely but not solely neonicotinoids), there are plenty of other contributing factors as you might expect when an animal begins suddenly dropping dead in astounding numbers. One of these factors is, as you also might expect, climate change. Dozens of bumblebee species have been losing habitat since the 1970’s, before neonicotinoids were much of an issue. Most animals have been expanding their habitats northwards as the average temperature in these areas slowly rises, but for some reason many bumblebees are losing habitat where it is becoming too warm for them and not expanding their habitats northward where it was once too cold for them. The reason for this is not known why, but the cause is clear, and the solution is just as much so. One final cause, something you can easily help dear reader, is large urban and industrial sprawl without any source of pollen for bees, which has been speculated as the reason why bees are not expanding their habitat northwards as it gets warmer., since they cannot achieve enough population density to inhabit the area.

As far as action that can and has been taken, a moratorium on damaging pesticides and research into the more complicated aspects of the issue are already underway across the bee-inhabited world. As far as other government action goes, some species of bee do not travel too far from their nests and so despite parks and large green spaces being usually pretty good for bees, a higher saturation of bee-friendly plants and crops without pesticides would definitely be a good thing.

As well as encouraging more parks and plants everywhere, you can help the bees yourself by filling your yard or neighborhood with bee-friendly plants instead of keeping it bare or planting less bee-friendly plants. Some plants have been genetically modified or bred to have larger flowers and these are often a lot harder if not impossible for bees to make any use out of. Try to find plants that are a little more natural and helpful to a bee’s habitat (ex: lavender, sage, fuchsia). As well, maybe rethink your weed-pulling method, as a lot of weeds such as dandelions can be very good for bees. Finally, try doing things that will support local beekeepers like buying raw, local honey.