18 October 2016

HEALTH & BUSINESS - Understanding the Bee Crisis

Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced or masked bees have been added to the US endangered and threatened species list.

(John Kaia, AP)
This marks the first time that a bee has been added to the list, although the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that the Rusty Patched bumble bee be added.

Bees are among the world’s most important pollinators, with a global pollination value of billions of dollars per year. In the US alone, honey bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops annually.

Honey bees are the group most commonly referenced when discussing the bee crisis – the rapid decline in bee populations in North America and globally.

When “colony collapse disorder” is referenced, it is usually in a discussion of domesticated bees in managed and cultivated colonies.

Rather, it is wild bees that are most at risk. Bees like the yellow-faced bees who have made it onto the endangered species list, or the 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species that have disappeared in the last 100 years.

According to EcoWatch, “Yellow-faced bees are the most important pollinators for many key trees and shrubs in Hawaii.”

Wild bees are also endangered globally.

In Europe, the Red List of Bees project determined that 9% of bee species in Europe are facing potential extinction, 5% are likely to be threatened with extinction in the near future, and over half of the wild bee species in Europe were determined to be “data deficient,” meaning that it is impossible to know their extinction risk without further study.

In England alone, two species of Bumble bee have gone extinct since 1941, and two other species are in steep decline.

The loss of wild bees in China has already forced farmers to hand-pollinate apple and pear orchards.

And although it is much more challenging to find solid information about the state of wild pollinators in previously colonized countries, it does appear that wild pollinators, including bees, have also been struggling in India, where vegetable farmers have felt the loss most keenly.

However, despite the continued decline in bee populations, all hope is not lost.

Humans are the greatest threat to bees – agricultural practices have changed, resulting in extreme losses of habitat and introducing new threats to colony health – but human practices can change again.

In fact, the agricultural practices that are likely contributing to such steep declines in bee populations in North America and Europe are not as prevalent in East Africa, where honey bees face similar pests and infections and yet remain healthy.

Kenyan beekeeping practices don’t include the commercial production of queen bees. Instead, new hives are started when a healthy hive naturally splits in two. The genetic variation may be a big part of their increased resilience. 

Individuals can also help support wild bee populations wherever they live.

Gardening with native flowering plants is one of the best ways to reintroduce bee-friendly habitats, and it’s something that any individual can do.

For more information, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a thorough resource guide for concerned citizens.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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