The recent inclusion of seven species of Hawaii’s yellow-faced bees to the endangered species list has wreaked social media havoc across the globe. But the poignant battle is one our pollinator buddies have been facing for some time and not just in the U.S.
The European Commission have declared an astonishing 53 European bee species endangered of which 7 are critically endangered. The publication entitled European Red list of Bees prepared by the IUCN aimed at reviewing the status of European bee species in order to undertake appropriate conservation action. The results reflect that 9.2% of native European bees are threatened with extinction.
The Western Honey bee Apis Mellifera native to Europe, whose decline has attracted considerable attention, accounts for much of the managed bee colonies worldwide. But these domesticated colonies are not the prime issue. The importance of wild bees as pollinators is gravely understated. In fact, honey bees merely enhance the pollination efforts of wild insects making wild bees chief pollinators for wild plants and crops.
Bumble bees, with their unique sonication skills, are also important pollinators. According to the IUCN red list, fifteen species of bumble bees are endangered of the 44 species assessed.
Unfortunately one of the key issues for the majority of bee species worldwide is insufficient data to evaluate the risks of extinction. For many species the lack of experts and funding for research is a major barrier in determining the extent of the problem. Read on to see how you can help.
What’s causing the dilemma?
The use of herbicides to control weeds on croplands may seem harmless but for bees this means a greatly reduced diversity of food sources. As monocultures take over and wild-flowers decline, so do bee populations.
Pesticides not only impair the neurological functions of bees but also affect their resistance to disease pathogens. Pesticide use has been identified as a major culprit in colony collapse disorder (CCD) whereby the worker bees of a hive mysteriously and abruptly abandon the colony.
Other contributing factors to bee decline include climate change, habitat loss, inadequate food supply and competition with non-native bees; all of which are human induced.
Aside from producing the sticky sweet nectar we all know and love, bees are responsible for the pollination of a vast percentage of flowering plants which include crops to the value of an estimated $186 billion annually. This makes them not only incredibly economically important to humans but also responsible for the nutrition of many other species making them invaluable contributors to the ecosystem.
Declining bee populations affect much of our nut, fruit and vegetable production worldwide; not forgetting that honey itself which has been valued for centuries for both nutritional and medicinal benefits also accounts for substantial economic profit.
And as the main pollinators of flowers, a world without bees would also be A LOT less pretty. But before we commence the moment of silence and wait for the world to end…
Here’s what we can do:
In the past decade, a number of policies have been written to regulate the use of neonicotinoid pesticides worldwide with a continent-wide ban of certain bee-harming pesticides in Europe, but the rest of the world is not following suit fast enough (or at all).
Government intervention aside, here are some of the things we can do at home to make a difference:
Flowers - Plant a variety of bee-friendly flowers in your garden and encourage wild-flower growth. Not all so-called weeds are bad and many provide a valuable food source for native bees. It’s always a good idea to keep things indigenous, so look up the bee-friendly plant species in your area.
Bee hotels – Create a bee habitat (or two) in your garden. Here is a great resource on providing nesting sites for wild bees put together by The Xerces Society.
Donate – The IUCN are currently trying to raise funds to complete the assessment of bumble bee species. Help them curb the data deficiency issue by donating toward the campaign to support the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.
No Fear – Bees seldom sting humans and usually only do when they feel aggravated or threatened so unless you’re allergic, don’t be a pansy, plant one.