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Challenges that make the survival of bees difficult have largely been identified. Efforts to address them are being made in different countries by various government agencies, organizations and individuals. This article looks at the threats facing bees and possible solutions to save the bees. Being highly independent and resilient insects, bees fly many miles to forage for food, defend against attacks and survive harsh weather including winter. But even then, there are basic requirements for the survival of bees.
6 of the Worst Threats Facing Bees
The use of pesticides is arguably the biggest threat to bees and pollinators. The pesticide can be sprayed in one location but affect bees over a very wide area. The foraging behavior of bees sees them fly up to 5 miles from their hives. A bee can thus come into contact with the pesticide during foraging even if the pesticide was not meant to get into contact with them. At times, aerial spraying of pesticides results in drifting due to the winds in the area.
Persistent chemicals remain in the environment for long and can continue harming bees. Systemic insecticides are also problematic to bees since they can contaminate pollen grains that bees fed on. Sub-lethal amounts of the insecticides weaken bee populations gradually by impeding their navigation and foraging abilities. Some herbicides too have a killing effect on bees.
2. Parasites and Diseases
Parasites and diseases that are specific to bees and not native to the USA are also a problem. For example, the Thoracic and Varroa mites that cause a lot of problems to bees are not indigenous to the USA. They have come as a result of honey bee colonies being brought to the country from Europe and other continents. Thoracic mites are small at first and move into the trachea of honey bees where they lodge themselves. As they grow larger, they block the trachea until the affected bee cannot breathe. The bee dies as a result. A heavy infestation of such mites can cause a lot of bees in a colony to die before you can address the problem as a beekeeper.
Varroa mites are another problem for honey bees. They cause deformities in the growth and development of honey bees. They also transmit viruses that are harmful to honey bees. These species are foreign and under close monitoring by various government agencies. There are a number of solutions available to treat Varroa mites which you can check out here.
3. Loss of Habitat
A lot of habitat used by bees and other pollinators has been lost due to human occupation. There are three ways the bees lose habitat. People can change the habitat entirely, degrade it so that it is not very suitable for bee life, or fragment it so that bee colonies are separated from making contact with each other. Where we do not build housing structures of varying types, the land is often turned into farmland.
Resource extraction also takes a lot of habitat from these insects. They are habitat-specific and the loss of their sites for foraging, mating and overwintering affects their survival. Island populations of bees have come up after they are isolated from other colonies due to land being converted to other use by people. Such island populations of bees lose genetic diversity gradually. They become susceptible to disease and cannot fight off invasive parasites and pests.
4. Invasive Species
A number of exotic (non-native) and indigenous species are increasingly turning detrimental to the survival of bees. Non-native species in particular, are introduced into places to help with biological control of other species, or for some other benefit to humans. Non-native species are useful for some time but can turn invasive. In the case of bees, both plant and insect species introduced into various locations have become a problem.
Plant shrubs brought to the USA are crowding out wild flowers needed by bees for pollen and nectar. Some of the introduced species attract pollinators more strongly than native plant species that are superior food sources for bees. Exotic species of bees bring direct competition to the more native bees, as can be seen where European honey bees crowd out and compete for resources with feral honey bees in the USA.
Air pollution is affecting bees in many ways. Firstly, bees rely on scents to find flowers and their beehive. The presence of pollutants in the air makes it difficult for bees to find resources that are important for their survival.
Light is another major pollutant. Bees use lights for navigation and to regulate their life rhythms. Today, the landscape has many lights from human settlement and other activities. The lights sometimes disorient bees and cause them to behave abnormally. It is important for beekeepers to make sure that their beehives do not allow in lights to disorient bees. Wild bees respond to fading daylights and falling daytime temperatures to settle in the hive for the night. If the hive allows in light, they may become excessively active within the night cluster even if they do not leave the hive.
6. Climate Change
Studies show that climate change is altering the relationship between pollinators and plants. Many pollinators such as bees, are finding themselves in a changing landscape and may have problems adapting. Some plants are dying out in regions that are affected by temperature changes. Warming up of some areas has made certain plants begun colonize regions that are further south or north, where climatic conditions are more suitable. Bees would be best suited to migrate and follow these plants, but they are not able to do so quickly enough.
The net effect is that plants lose contact with their pollinators and bees lose important food sources. Such changes in the diversity of plant species affect the availability of food resources for bees, and have an impact on their ability to survive in specific locations. The makeup of pollinator communities is therefore changing due to climate change, and the effect on both plant and human survival has not been fully understood yet.
Government Solutions to Save Bees
Bees are an important species for agricultural production. A lot of crops we use as food require insect pollination. Bee species on a whole are among the most active pollinators and account for the biggest percent of insect pollination activity. The steady loss of bees has caused alarm from various quarters. This has led to the rise of managed bee colonies in order to ensure good yields in plant agriculture. Attention is being drawn to the precarious situation of pollinators by initiatives such as the USA’s ‘National Pollinator Week’.
Taking into account that humans are the major cause of problems that are affecting bees, it is only fair that people address the issues to ensure adequate food production. Biological and environmental stressors on bees are grouped into 3 major classes: insecticides, urbanization and global warming. Luckily, there is a lot that is being done and can be done to help increase bee populations. Even if these efforts should fail, they should at least help keep bee populations from further decline.
The solutions to save bees that are being applied are diverse. There is no single magic solution but a mix of several efforts seems to be doing the trick.
Government Led Initiatives in the USA
The Government of the USA is encouraging community initiatives that involve people setting up their own beehives. They also encourage planting of bee-friendly plants in gardens and yards. The government of the USA is also partnering with other governments to research the bee population decline problem, in an attempt to better understand it. In the USA, a national strategy has been developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It lays out research and management processes that will be helpful in restoring bee populations when implemented.
Several government agencies and services within the USDA are also involved in research and monitoring of bee colonies. Most visible is the USA Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The National Agricultural Statistics Service is also involved in the efforts to help solve the problem in the USA and globally.
Agricultural Research Service
The Agricultural Research Service is running research initiatives to improve the health of bees through nutrition and control of Varroa mites, among other pests and pathogens. The service is also interested in research that sheds light on the interactions between bees and various pathogens, and pesticides on bee colonies. It is setting up long-term research studies that will help determine the causes of colony collapse disorder and other causes of bee deaths.
The studies will also explore possible treatments for causes of increased bee mortality. Lastly, the Agricultural Research Service is establishing a gene bank for bee genes that will be useful in breeding qualities such as resistance to diseases and pests in bees
It is hoped that having better breeds of bees will improve their pollination efficiency.
National Institute for Food and Agriculture
The National Institute for Food and Agriculture is running important research in treatments for various bee diseases. Bacterial diseases can be combated using viruses. One such research at its advanced stages, explores the use of viral species in fighting bacteria that are significant in causing bee diseases. Other research aims at understanding and enhancing sustainable pollination strategies, such as through the effect of wild flowers that are bee-friendly.
National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
More government agency activity aimed towards bee conservation includes a partnership between the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In the partnership, the two services are carrying out a nationwide bee health survey.
It is a survey that will also set baseline values for the prevalence of diseases and pests that are significant to bees.
U.S Forest Service and the Farm Service Agency
The U.S Forest Service and the Farm Service Agency are creating and restoring thousands of acres of habitat for pollinators. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is also being involved by giving assistance in the form of financial aid to landowners. It aims to restore and protect private lands for optimum habitation by pollinators.
10 Roles You Can Play to Save the Bees
In addition to government efforts, you can play a role in implementing solutions to save bees. Cooperation with authorities is an important first step towards making sure bees are around to pollinate our food. Saving bees is a big undertaking that is best split into smaller functions.
By starting within your local community, you can do a lot to help save bees. Concerted effort has shown that environments that were previously not conducive for bee survival can be turned into suitable habitats for bees. Through all these efforts, the world will gradually become a healthier place for bees of all kinds.
Try some of the following as your personal effort and contribution to solutions to save bees:
1. Protect Bee Habitats
Protect bee habitat where it is under threat. In urban environments, there is shortage of green spaces that would encourage insect and bee life. This loss of habitat can be mitigated by providing and encouraging small green spaces. Planting a bee garden or creating a habitat corridor is possible. You can use flowers that bees love and which have high nectar production characteristics. Balconies, street corners and edges of roadways are suitable places for planting such flowers.
With a little research, you can have flowers all year round when the weather permits. There are many different flowers you can plant to bloom at various times of the year. When you are planting bee-friendly flowers, prioritize the Allium family. Where you can, have some willow trees and lime trees in your green spaces. The trees are a great source of nectar and pollen for bees. Hybrid flowers are often sterile or have little nectar and pollen. They are not suitable for planting, where the objective is to have a bee-friendly patch of vegetation.
This is something you can do in conjunction with local authorities. Many of the best gardens in our cities today are managed by local authorities. Lobby them to plant bee-friendly flowers in these gardens and other green spaces. You can also work with local authorities to set limits to urban development that could be harmful to bees.
2. Discourage Use of Pesticides and Insecticides
Buy organic to discourage the use of insecticides. It is now clear that pesticides on a whole are a big problem for bees. Insecticides are more injurious to bees since they target insects in particular. Organic farming practices should avoid the use of synthetic and commercially produced chemicals in agriculture. Purchasing organically grown food supports this infant industry and discourages use of insecticides in farmlands. Avoiding harmful pesticides and fertilizers too is great for making environments healthy for bees.
If you are a farmer and have to control pests, consider organic solutions and spraying the pesticide at night. Biological controls are also available to you so you do not have to introduce chemicals that are harmful to pollinators into the environment. Ecological farming is one of the best solutions to save bees. It encompasses the end of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and practices such as pesticide reduction and promotion of biodiversity.
3. Support Local Beekeepers
Purchase local honey and beehive products to support beekeeping. Local beekeepers are most often engaged in bee conservation practices near you. They are also paying more attention to their production processes unlike commercial honey producers. Beekeepers work hard to manage healthy honeybee colonies. They contribute to the local genetic pool in the bee population of your area. Purchasing local honey and hive products when you need them indirectly supports the work of beekeepers. You can also make donations or volunteer your support through the beekeeping societies and clubs that are in your area.
4. Become a Beekeeper
The most pro-active solution to save bees is to take up beekeeping. If you have adequate space and interest, you should become a beekeeper and be directly involved in maintaining bee populations. It is a fun hobby to engage in, and can become a source of additional income for you. Beekeeping is enjoyable and also gives you honey for your consumption.
Local beekeeping associations and clubs are great places to meet beekeepers when you are starting out in beekeeping. The societies have courses to help beginner beekeepers and help them find the required materials and equipment. You start out as an enthusiast in beekeeping and can become a master beekeeper with studying, practice and commitment to being part of the solutions to save bees.
5. Protect Swarming Bees
Help local beekeepers and authorities to protect swarming bees. During swarming season, be on the lookout for swarms of bees. You will see them under tree branches or the eaves of houses. When you spot a swarm, inform local authorities or a beekeeper near you to come and remove the swarm. Bees in a swarm are not generally hostile and present little danger. They are best used to start a new colony of honeybees by an experienced beekeeper. Do not throw objects at the cluster of swarming bees or spray them with water. If there are children near the swarm, usher them away so they do not hurt the swarm of bees.
6. Plant Trees
Plant trees in open spaces where possible. Trees are a major contributor of nectar and pollen for bees. One tree gives honey bees thousands of flowers to visit in one lace and within a short period of time. In addition to pollen and nectar, trees provide bees with resins. Bees use the resins to seal up cracks, crevices and small gaps in their beehive. It is also used to mummify dead bees, insects and animals in the beehive for maintenance of hygiene.
Tall trees provide shelter for bees when they swarm. A lot of deforestation activity is happening around the world. So where you can, protect trees from being cut down and plant some yourself. You can link up with other interested persons around you and carry out tree planting events when you can.
7. Adopt a Beehive
Adopt a beehive through an organization. It supports local beekeeping efforts. Many beehives are lost every year. Adopting a beehive keeps the beekeeper vigilant and makes them become more attentive to the needs of the honeybee colony that has been adopted. In the process, the beekeeper benefits, and you get to play a role in saving bees.
8. Provide Water
Have a watering point for bees, other insects and birds. Also called a bee bath, it provides water to bees. They need it for cooling their beehive and for diluting honey before consumption. Bees fetch the water in small amounts and take it back to the beehive.
Bees need the bee bath to be designed in a way that meets their needs. They should not drown in the bath. This is ensured by placing floaters in the bee bath or having pebbles and other features that stick up above the surface. Bees land on the dry features in the bee bath and drink from the edge of the water. The bee bath does not have to be deep which makes it simple to construct and set up. A dish, bowl or shallow bird bath serves the purpose well.
9. Provide Nesting Spaces for Native Bee Species
Provide homes and nesting spaces for native bee species. There are many types of bees in addition to the popular honey bee. These other bee species may not receive much attention, yet they too can do with a little help. Providing nesting space for such bees improves their survival rate and increases their population in your area. Mason bees are popular native bees that you can help conserve. They live in small houses made of tubular components. They are great pollinators too and help with control of some household and garden pests. Bees of various kinds live underground. You can leave a small patch in your garden undisturbed to make it a great nesting place for such underground dwelling bees.
10. Bee an Ambassador
Spread the word and be a bee ambassador. Awareness about the plight of bees needs to be created. You can be part of this effort globally or locally in the area you live in. educate people around you on the need to conserve bees. You should also inform them about what they can do to prevent the decline of bee populations.
Bee ambassadors are many today and finding a group to join is not difficult. If there is none close enough to you, start one and link up with those that are further away from you. As a bee ambassador, you can work with bee conservation organizations to help them in fund raising. You can also engage in small fund raising activities and channel the collected funds to the bee conservation organization of your choice.
A Final Word
There are many problems that are hindering the survival of bees. The threats can be classified into various categories not limited to: habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, invasive species, diseases, pollution, use of pesticides and climate change. Bees of various types are feeling the pressure on their populations as habitats become unavailable or unsuitable for habitation. Use the information in this article to make your life more bee-friendly and contribute to solutions to save bees.