MPAC’s Intern Sibyl Pan covers the global decline of bees and how to help our fuzzy friends.
With National Honey Bee Day on August 19th fast approaching, we want to celebrate the essential role bees play for the ecosystem and food production.
Bees pollinate a third of the food produced by plants, 90 percent of all flowering plants, and conserve the stability and variation of the plant community. For all that bees do for our earth, recent environmental conditions have not returned the favor. Globally, bee populations are plummeting primarily due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees disappear, abandoning their duties to care for the queen and immature bees, and eventually causing the rapid death of the entire colony.
Four main factors of global warming, pesticide use, habitat loss, and parasites cause CCD. Of these four, pesticides moved front and center as the most concerning contributor to bee population declines. Instead of killing bees instantly, pesticides impair development and behavior by attacking their cognitive abilities including memory and navigation.
Many scientific research articles find that one class of insecticides in particular, neonicotinoids, can cause the disappearance of bee colonies altogether. One such study found that just a 20 parts per billion dose of imidaclopriod, a commonly used neonicotinoid, can lead to CCD in almost all the colonies. Neonicotinoids can spread through the plant all the way to the flowers where bees pick up the neurotoxin during their pollination routes.
While most neonicotinoid use takes place in agricultural settings, urban homeowners can still play their part in protecting bees starting with selecting bee-friendly plants for your garden and/or lawn. Plant flowering plants native to your region to increase bee foraging spaces. The best planting practices select plants with varying bloom times and group similar plant species together to achieve a sustainable food source for bees throughout the year. The Xerces Society provides a list of bee-friendly plants native to the Midwest. When purchasing plants for your lawn or garden, take the proper precautions to ensure the supplier did not grow the plants with harmful neonicotinoids that can stay in plant and flower tissue for up to two years. Please visit Friends of the Earth for a list of neonicotinoids-free retailers.
Besides needing abundant forage, bees like dead branches, snags, or logs on the ground for nesting sites. If you like a “clean” lawn or garden void of these natural nesting sites, consider providing artificial nesting materials like bee boxes and tubes.
Finally, avoid pesticides or other chemicals whenever possible, especially during the blooming seasons. As an alternative, practice integrated pest management and other natural gardening techniques to help grow healthy, pesticide-free plants for bees. If you can tolerate some weeds such as clovers and dandelions, then you’ll make a friend out of bees and other pollinators who love these plants for food! Don’t hurry to get rid of these weeds. Instead, wait for them to bloom and then trim it off before seed dispersal. For more information on creating a bee-friendly garden, please refer to MPAC’s fact sheet.