Image: Bumblebee (probably Bombus terrestris) by Tony Wills. CC BY-SA 3.0.
It is a warm, sunny day in May here in Uppsala. When passing the meadows close to my house you can see busy butterflies and bumblebees collecting nectar from the flowers. Watching this scene, it is almost impossible to imagine that many insect species and especially bees are actually in serious trouble. Since 2006 bee keepers in the US and Europe have seen a decline in the numbers of honeybees that is growing more rapid. This phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) where adult worker bees disappear from their hives leaving behind the queen, the brood and nursing bees.
Now, you might say: ”I do not like honey anyway. Why should I care about the bees?” Well, bees are not only involved in the production of honey, but most edible plants you can find in your local supermarket. Most agricultural plants, i.e. fruit, seeds and nuts (see here for a complete list), rely on the pollination by bees, most of all by honeybees. As a consequence, no bees means no food for humans either which is why we should care about the bees.
What happens when bees disappear completely, can already be seen in China. Bees have become extinct in some parts of the country. For this reason farmers have started to manually pollinate fruit trees themselves in order to save their crops and buisenesses.
There are different reasons for the mass extincition of bees that we see today. The main villains are modern agriculture; germs and parrasites, particularly the varroa mite, as well as climate change (yes, the most famous super-villain). I have tried to collect some tips on how you can help to save the bees.
1 Buy Organic Food
I know this sounds very cliché and green millitant. But one huge problem for bees are pesticides, especially so-called neonicotinoids. Pesticides shorten the bees lifespan and damage their ability to reproduce. In addition, neonicotinoids have been shown to impair worker bees orientation abilities which is why many cannot find back to their hives. Also, monocultures that dominate modern agriculture are a huge problem for bees. Monocultures decrease food variety and only bloom during short timespans leaving the bees hungry for the rest of the year. Organic farming renounces the use of pesticides and monocultures, which is why eating organically grown food is a good way to help the bees.
2 Plant Wild Flowers
As mentioned above agricultural monocultures are damaging for bees. But you can do something against this by planting indigenous wild flowers in your garden or on your balcony. This way you can create safe havens for bees offering food with a good variety. In addition, you will also help other struggling insect species, for example butterflies. Be aware, that this effect can not be achieved with ornamental garden flowers like roses or pansies, as these can not function as a food source for bees and other pollinating insects.
3 Fight Climate Change
Climate change is affecting bees in a number of ways. Warm winters, extreme temperature fluctuations and earlier flowering phases cause massive stress, damage their circulation and make them more vulnerable to parasites like the varroa mite. These factors will most likely get more severe in the future with continued global warming. To prevent this you can do, what you might already do to fight climate change: Use the bike or public transport instead of the car. Take the train for long distance travel instead of the plane. Switch to an electricity company that provides you with energy from renewable power plants.
Now, go and save the bees! And your own food…