Since bees usually do the brunt of the work in pollinating food crops and other plants, any factors that threaten the bee population sure puts the global food supply in danger. As non-beekeepers who have no direct impact in saving bees, is there anything we can do?
The truth is, everyone has an impact in helping the bee population thrive and even the little things could help improve the bee decline crisis. You may ask why you should care enough to do your part, so before the listing down things you can do for bees, we'll give you a reason to care first.
Why You Should Care About Bees
Bees may just be minding their own business of caring for their own colony in their hives, but it's no secret that, as they go about from plant to plant harvesting pollen, they also end up pollinating the plants and helping it to grow. So, if the bees don't really care about humans, why should humans care about bees?
Even with other insects and small animals inadvertently pollinating plants, bees are still, by far, the biggest contributors to pollination, especially with food crops.
"About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables depend on pollination by honey bees," the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture explains.
While human population continues to increase, the bees responsible for pollinating human food crops continue to decline. In fact, even honeybees used commercially for pollination and other honeybee products has seen a loss of 40 percent of its population in the U.S. since 2006. If those numbers continue to move in its current trend, it can lead to crisis as more people have to deal with less food supply. The future doesn't seem too bright, does it?
The Causes Of Decline
Bee scholar Dr. Marla Spivak outlines four of the greatest threats to bee population, and these are: parasites, pesticides, flowerless landscapes and crop monocultures.
To put it simply, parasitic mites were accidentally imported into the country and its favorite target are honeybees. In spite of the generally sanitized environment inside the hives, parasitic mites that attack even a single bee can inadvertently cause it to be infected by other viruses that can eventually kill an entire hive. Perhaps it is nature's way to keep populations in check, but what about the other causes?
Three of the four main causes of bee population decline is rooted in human behavior. Perhaps the fear of being attacked by a killer bee leads to incessant spraying of pesticide. Many no longer attempts to determine if a certain bee species is indeed deadly or are just trying to protect its hive.
Some farmers do the same in order to protect their crops from insect infestation. While the target of commercial farmers isn't really bees, the busy insects are still affected by the chemicals, that contributes to the quick decline of the bee population.
Favoring some crops over others can lead to flowerless landscape and crop monocultures. That is to say, since commercial farming is focused on using as much land as possible to yield the highest amount of harvest, there is less land in which flowers grow so there is less food supply for the bees. No food for bees means less pollination and, again, population decline.
What Everyone Can Do To Ease The Problem
Here's a good excuse if you're not in the mood to mow the lawn just yet: after winter when the flowers have yet to bloom and only weeds are thriving: the weeds are the bees' source of nectar.
Dandelions, Dutch Clover and plantains are nutritious enough for bees to survive on and bloom the earliest after a harsh winter. If you see these growing in your lawn, try to put off mowing or removing them, at least until the flowers begin to bloom and the bees can move on.
Likewise, if you have plants you want to protect from pesky pests and you really can't stop yourself from spraying your garden, read the label first and check if there are chemicals harmful to bees mixed in. There are some pesticides that are more toxic to bees and cause instant death and some that endanger the bee but, with proper treatment, it could recover from.
The University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Xerces.org (PDF), a non-profit organization devoted to protecting invertebrate species, have separately come up with a list of pesticides that are highly toxic and somewhat safer for the pollinators, as well as how one should apply the chemicals.
Aside from planting more flowering plants, try to leave a portion of your garden untouched and let the bees hang out there. Just make sure to remind both curious kids and forgetful adults to steer clear of or at least not be hostile when they wander into the area. Bees are still defensive creatures so if they feel threatened, they will attack and we are sure you don't want any casualties from such an attack.
The most important of all is to spread the message and urge more people to be proactive in lessening the risks for the bee population in their own little ways.
The decline in bee population is a serious matter because whether you believe it or not, our food sources depend on bees just as much as it depends on water, sunlight, carbon dioxide and tilled lands in order to thrive.
Forty percent of the bee population has already been wiped out due largely to human activities so we know that this is a problem that humans can solve. Let's not wait until it's too late for both our species before we take action.