Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bee-ware a decline in the pollinator population

Recent declines in bee populations are beginning to bring about more awareness regarding the importance of bees to our food system. While most people think of honey production when they think of bees, the critical role they play in the pollination of many of the foods we consume often goes unnoticed. It has been estimated that 1/3 of the human food supply is dependent on insect pollination. The role of bees is important in ensuring that our food systems are healthy and stable. It is estimated that the total value of bees to Canadian agriculture is over $1 billion per year.

Farmers rely on bees to pollinate thousands of crops: strawberries, melons, cucumbers, apples, cherries, and tomatoes, just to name a few. The degree to which a crop is pollinated determines its yield. Materials used post-pollination, such as fertilizers and pesticides, are designed to protect and preserve a crop, not increase the amount produced. To increase crop yields, some farmers enlist commercial beekeepers to bring mobile hives to their farms, as they cannot rely on wild and feral bees to complete such a large task. In order to pollinate California's 420,000 acres of almond trees, for instance, farmers require up to 1 million colonies of bees. Without bee pollination, the availability of thousands of crops would sharply decline.

There are over 1000 types of bees in Canada alone. The honey bee is the most important, since it is an equal opportunity pollinator, and will pollinate more plants than other specific types of bees which may gravitate toward only some plants.

The phenomenon of dying honey bees has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Although colony decline is expected during winter months, declines within the past 5 years have been unusally high. Some beekeepers report a loss of 30-90% of their colonies. Many theories have been generated as to why this is. Some scientists have suggested that mites and other hive pests are partially responsible, which others speculate that the use of pesticides and chemicals have something to do with it. It could be a culmination of a number of environmental and chemial stresses that has caused this widespread die-off.

There are simple things we can do in our own backyard to help rejuvenate the bee population:

  • Keeping a garden is a simple way to start. Planting an array of wild flowers native to your local environment provides a rich and diverse supply of pollen and nectar.

  • Reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides can also help to ensure the health and safety of bees.

  • Learning more about bees can be an invaluable contribution to their wellbeing. Learning where they live, what they eat, and how they behave can help all of us to understand and save our local bee populations.

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