Backyard Talk

What’s Happening to the Bees?

Each bee visits about 1,500 hundred flowers per day. They pollinate 80% of the world’s plants, which makes them responsible for about 30% of the food we eat (1). Without bees, we would not have honey, beeswax, oilseeds, or most of the fruits and vegetables we know and love.
On October 31st, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will put into place a ruling in which seven species of Hawaiian bees (a variety of Hylaeus yellow-face bees) will be placed on the endangered species list (2). You might assume that there is no cause for concern because these are only a few types of bees in one state. However, this endangered species ruling includes 3 animal species and 39 plant species in addition to the bees- and this is just in Hawaii. Unfortunately, the causes of endangerment for these species are happening in more than just one state.
Causes for Concern
The Center for Biological Diversity tells us that 99% of any currently threatened species in the world were put at risk because of human activity (3). A multitude of human factors have contributed to the decline of what once were among the most abundant species- the bees. Urbanization, introduction of nonnative plants and invertebrates, water extraction, manmade structures, artificial lighting, human intrusion and dumping of trash into anchialine pools are just a few of the issues these Hawaiian bee populations are facing. In Europe, honeybee populations have declined partially due to a lack of forage (an effect of urbanization) and the use of pesticides. Pesticides not only kill bees, but they weaken their immune systems, and can affect things like their ability to navigate their surroundings or recognize certain flowers (4). This inhibits bees from performing the daily functions that we rely on them for. However, we do not need to protect certain species from endangerment solely because they provide us with something. We also must be aware that certain human activities are threatening biodiversity. Although there are many natural factors that cause populations to fluctuate and even go extinct, our focus must be on the human factors we can control.
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The University of Vermont’s Study shown here displays other at-risk counties in the US, which are mostly agricultural areas. These bees face pesticides and habitat loss. (7)

Solutions We Can See
One proposed solution by Greenpeace to protect bees from pesticides is ecological farming. Eco farming aims to create sustainable farms and communities through advocacy and education, which eliminates the use of pesticides altogether (5). Another proposed solution is advocating for legislation that fights human-caused degradation. A good example of this was Europe’s ban on neonicotinoids (a common pesticide that contaminates nectar/pollen) back in 2013 (6). Calling your local congressperson or speaking out about these issues are the first steps in getting legislation such as this passed. Although pesticide issues are not the main area of concern in Hawaii, campaigning against similar issues like the dumping of trash in anchialine pools or the building of structures on top of at-risk habitats is a great place to start.  Though we may not be able to save every species from natural extinction, we can certainly reduce the human impact on the precious populations around us today.

(1) Honey Love- Urban Beekeepers (2013)
(2) Federal Register (2016)
(3) Center for Biological Diversity
(4) Greenpeace
(5) Ecological Farming Association 
(6) International Business Times (IBT, 2014)
(7) Huffington Post (2015)