Today is National Honeybee Day, and it seems like good time to talk about the plight of the honeybees.
Colony Collapse Disorder is what beekeepers and scientists call the problems afflicting honeybee hives worldwide, and, for quite some time, there was a lot a finger-pointing, and sky-is-falling rhetoric without answers credible enough to report. We’ve had enough time and study, now, so that a picture is beginning to emerge.
Neo-nicotinoids are systemic insecticides that are absorbed into plant tissues and can reside there for some time. Chlorothalonil is a fungicide widely used in agriculture. When bees are exposed to low levels of chemicals like these in pollen that they collect, research suggests, they become more susceptible to disease, especially the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, and parasites. Transporting bees to pollinate heavily bee-dependent crops, like almonds, stresses and weakens bee colonies as well.
Research also suggests that loss of bee diversity means less efficient pollination, as remaining bees visit a greater number of species of plants. Only the pollen from another flower of the same species will cause the plant to set fruit or seed. And, 71 of the top 100 agriculture crops are dependent on bees for pollination, according to the U. N.
Wild bees pollinate plants, too. However, Rob says, "Other pollinators are suffering the same fate as honeybees." We may not notice the loss of those pollinators, because we have a special relationship with honeybees, but they are also affected by habitat loss, pesticides, and other stressors. Still, there’s reason to be concerned about honeybees, he says. "None of the native pollinators are close to as efficient as the honeybee."
In an urban environment, however, the lower risk of exposure to pesticides can give the bees an edge. And, they’re better backyard partners than chickens. Chickens need to be fed, watered, and protected from predators, Rob noted. Bees, however, "can benefit from negligence." Newer research, he said, indicates "intervention...could be undercutting bee health."
For most of us, Rob asks that we continue to create habitat for bees, allowing them to find pesticide-free forage. For those who would become beekeepers, Rob reminds that urban bees keep honeybee population decline in check, making them available in agriculture sometime in the future. Chicken eggs may feed your family and neighbors, backyard bees may help feed the world.