Did you know one out of every three bites of food is made possible by bees and other pollinators? Bees are vital to our ecosystem and food production. Here in the United States, bees directly contribute to an estimated 90% of the country’s commercial crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. Honey bees alone pollinate the equivalent of $15 billion worth of commercial crops every year. (source)
Bees and other pollinators are indispensable to our ecosystem. Unfortunately, the world’s bee population is in decline. There are several factors contributing to this decline such as climate change, pesticide use and habitat loss.
BEES AND CLIMATE CHANGE FAST FACTS
Climate change affects bees in several devastating and specific ways:
Seasonal Pollination Timing – When flowers and plants bloom early due to irregular and shifting temperatures, their pollinating counterparts may not be ready or available to feed on that pollen. Even a mismatch of this delicate timing by the space of one week can affect bees’ health, not to mention plant pollination.
Disease – Disease, fungus, and parasites like Nosema ceranae and Varroa mites already adversely affect bee populations. Warmer environments have been correlated with an increase in these types of infections and diseases, leading to a noticeable decline in overall bee populations in the last decade.
Habitat Loss – Increases in temperature due to climate change have restricted the areas where bees can survive, resulting in habitat loss. Bee territories have shrunk an estimated 200 miles in North America and Europe, according to a new study in the journal Science. Additionally, urban sprawl is also a leading cause of habitat loss. Urban areas tend to have less green space, thus there is less food and other habitat resources available for bees to survive. (source)
Declining bee and pollinator populations is alarming considering all that bees and pollinators do! There are 369,000 flowering plant species, and almost all are dependent on pollinating insects. (source)
It is estimated that a honeybee can visit 50-1000 flowers in one trip from the hive! One hive alone can pollinate 250 million flowers in a day. The sheer volume of plants that bees and other pollinators come into contact with would be a daunting if almost impossible job for humans to recreate. We are critically dependent on bees and other pollinators for our food, as well as the ecosystem.
CAN BEES ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE?
Many migratory species, such as the butterfly, are more adept at migrating to different climates in order to survive. As temperatures rise, and weather conditions vary due to climate change, bees are struggling to adapt in comparison to their migratory counterparts. If temperatures continue to rise and shift irregularly, the already endangered bee populations could die off at an even faster rate. A massive die off of the bees and other pollinators threatens global food production, as well as local ecosystems. (source)
BEES CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH
There are several ongoing studies in regards to bees and climate change. In a recent study published in Functional Ecology, the British Ecological Society’s journal, scientists found that bees raised in adverse, higher temperature environments tended to be “smaller, lost much of their body fat and suffered from disruptions to their hibernation.” These results suggest the bees which survived the altered, higher temperature environment in the experiment were not healthy and could struggle to find food or reproduce. (source)
It is this type of climate change research that is assisting scientists in predicting how climate change will affect not only bee populations but pollinator populations as a whole. Nature is dependent on pollinators for the ecosystem to thrive. Food shortages, as well as irreparable harm to the ecosystem from a lack of pollinators, is a possible future for honey bees and climate change.
2019 HONEY BEES AND CLIMATE CHANGE STATS
- Researchers reported this summer that about 40% of the US’ honeybee colonies died between October 2018 and April 2019 — the highest winter loss in 13 years.
- Over the past ten years, beekeepers in the United States and Europe have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher, substantially more than is considered normal or sustainable.
- 1 in 4 wild bee species in the U.S. is at risk of extinction.
- There are more than 20,000 distinct bee species around the world.
- There are more than 4,000 distinct bee species in the U.S.
- Bees and pollinators affect 35% of the world’s agricultural production.
- Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce.
- Pollinators support 87 of the leading food crops globally.
- Bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants.
SAVE THE BEES, SAVE THE WORLD
It’s not an understatement to say we are dependent on bees for our future and our food. The continued effects of climate change and pesticide use will impact bees and their habitats for years to come. But you don’t have to be a beekeeper to save the bees! There are several steps you can take in your own backyard and in your local community to help.
PLANT A BEE GARDEN
Urban sprawl is a massive threat to bee populations. If there isn’t a lot of green space on your street why not start a local neighborhood bee garden? It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to have flowering plants!
Even if you’re not a horticulturist, just letting the weeds and the grass in your yard grow and flower can help the bees.
Think of your garden as an oasis for bees! Use single flower plants such as marigolds and daisies, and have year-round blooms is just one tip. You can even build a home for bees in your bee garden or create a shallow bee bath to cool off your neighborhood pollinators as they work.
Read: 100 Plants to Feed the Bees
DON’T USE PESTICIDES
Pesticide use is one of the top culprits in the declining bee populations worldwide.
Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used insecticide and are suspected to cause colony collapse disorder among honey bees.
Neonicotinoids were recently banned in Europe after the European Food Safety Agency labeled the pesticide as having a “high acute risk” to honeybees and other pollinators.
Although many pesticides that adversely affect bees have been banned in other countries like Europe, here in the US those same products are still available in stores. Pesticides and insecticides can affect bees, their hives, and the plants and soil they’ve been sprayed on for years after initial use.
Avoid pesticides in your bee garden and use natural alternatives in your yard to encourage bees and other pollinators.
Talk to your neighbors, friends and family about discontinuing pesticide use in their yards — for their health as well as the health of the bees!
DONATE TO A BEE FRIENDLY ORGANIZATION, BUY LOCAL HONEY, BEE A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER
There is no one step to solve the problem of the declining bee population and climate change. However, there are several things we can do on a local level to shift the attention and conversation to the necessity of saving the bees:
Support your local beekeeper by buying local honey or other locally made beeswax products. Or become a beekeeper yourself, or support someone else’s initiative to become a beekeeper!
We are dependent on the bees, and what we do to them we do to ourselves — and our future. There are several organizations that ‘speak for the bees.’ The Bee Charmer loves The Honeybee Conservancy and Bee City USA.