“Please Buzz for Assistance”: What’s Killing the Bees?

by kohearn on October 7, 2016 - 8:21pm

(Image source: https://www.honeycolony.com/article/bees-dying-by-the-millions/)

It’s difficult to imagine life without bees. About three-quarters of food crops worldwide depend on insect pollination, but stresses like parasites and pesticides have dropped their populations to worrying levels in recent years (Stokes, 2016). However, new Ontario regulations restricting use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids has caused a rift between farmers and beekeepers. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the pushback against these restrictions has mainly been from seed and pesticide distributors and farming organizations (Atkins, 2015). During the 2016 growing season, farmers had to submit pest assessments for approval to use neonics on more than 50% of their crops, and for the 2017 season, will need one to use any neonics at all (Atkins, 2016). The regulations came into effect following the results of studies linking exposure to neonics to a decline in honeybee health, but some argue the factors responsible for colony collapse are more complicated (Atkins, 2015).

This conflict between farmers and beekeepers weighs reduced crop yields against pollinators’ benefits to about $900 million worth of crops (Atkins, 2015). Monocrops of corn and soybeans have substantially reduced wild bee habitats, but pollination also contributes substantial economic benefits through canola and flowering fruits and vegetables. Then, there is the question of who should pay to maintain bee populations: some feel these regulations will shift most of the costs to farmers, such as pressure to plant bee-friendly species on their land (Denys, 2015). Denys (2015) suggests this will place Ontario farmers at a disadvantage to farmers in countries permitted to use neonics. Underlying these valuation conflicts is uncertainty surrounding the main influence on declining bee populations. Some studies demonstrate that neonics cause harm to bees (Atkins, 2015), while others show minimal effects (Denys, 2015), but interactions between different factors make it difficult to determine what approach would be most effective to prevent colony collapse. Design of studies has played a role in the conflicting evidence, as methods of pesticide exposure and control of variables can skew data in one way or the other (Denys, 2015).

While lack of certainty is no reason to delay preventative measures, the unequal distribution of cost and benefits in this management approach highlights areas for improvement. First, there is a need for consultation and compromise between affected groups—these regulations place the management costs on farmers, without providing subsidies or other benefits to encourage cooperation. The new system operates on a certain level of trust for implementation (Atkins, 2015), and resentment among farmers may make them unwilling to cooperate for these and future conservation efforts. Second, we need a more comprehensive approach to address factors like parasites and disease. Stokes (2016) suggests more stringent regulations on the import and export of bees could reduce the spread of disease among colonies. Public education campaigns are another viable option, allowing citizen involvement through planting bee-friendly flowers or building “bee hotels” to house solitary bees (Holland, 2015). Third, there should be updates to beekeeping regulations and practices to ensure healthy habitats and homes for their colonies. Offering training courses for new beekeepers could help increase hive health, while Yirka (2013) suggests restricting the use of processed syrup in bee diets to increase their resistance to pesticides.

While corn and soybean producers might resent shouldering the cost of keeping bee populations healthy, it’s important to remember they aren’t the only crops we consume. Through pollination, bees sustain not just flowers, but many of the fruits and vegetables that provide variety for our meals. While many staple crops don’t require insect pollination to flourish, you might get tired of eating corn every night.

References

Atkins, E. (2015, June 9). Ontario restricts use of pesticides blamed for decline of bee populations. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/ontario-unveils-first-restrictions-on-class-of-pesticides/article24874268/

Denys, S. (2015, June 17). Bee policy sting: Why farmers will suffer under Ontario’s new regulations. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/bee-policy-sting-how-farmers-will-suffer-under-ontarios-new-regulations

Holland, J. (2015, May 24). 9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators at Home. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150524-bees-pollinators-animals-science-gardens-plants/

Stokes, C. (2016, May 29). Ban the bees: Local beekeeper says imports too risky. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/honey-bee-import-disease-western-australia-1.3601061

Yirka, B. (2013, April 30). Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies. Phys.org. Retrieved from http://phys.org/news/2013-04-high-fructose-corn-syrup-tied-worldwide.html

Comments

Hi kohearn,

This is a great post! I've been hearing/seeing a lot of talk about bee populations in the news and on social media lately and while I knew the general idea of what was going on, I wasn't aware of all the details and all the controversy surrounding the banning of neonics. This is why I chose your article and I'm glad I did because it did not disappoint! I think you did a great job of including all the main arguments and actors that will be affected by the banning of neonics as well as the death of bee populations. It was a nice touch how you included different ways in which different actors can help bee populations, such as civil engagement. I've worked in a greenhouse/garden centre for the past two summers and we offer a lot of plant varieties that clearly state on the label if they are bee/butterfly/pollinator friendly. I think if people tried harder to select these plants when gardening, or even better if communities could get together and plant pollinator gardens in empty spaces such as on the side of highways, then this could help the bees a lot. Especially since you mentioned that it is contested whether or not neonics are actually the cause of the plunging bee populations, I'm sure every little bit can help! I also agree with you in the fact that the extinction of bees would cause a larger global problem than Ontario farmers being unable to farm certain crops. It's clear that there is always going to be conflict in resource management and not everyone can get what they want, but it is important to look at the bigger picture and evaluate which decisions will have the most favourable impacts.

If you were to revise your post, I would be interested to find out your personal position on the decreasing bee populations. You've clearly done your research and noticed that some articles blame neonics and some don't, I'm wondering what your opinion is on this?

SFX : Music jingle playing in background
Male VO: Good morning everyone and welcome to “The endangered Zone” Hosted by Malik Penceal on Environmentalist Radio.

1. Good morning folks, on todays show we will be discussing the decline of wild bees.
2. Most people when they think of bees they imagine an annoying insect who can harm them from a sting, but bees are so much more valuable to us.
3. I myself shared these same thoughts until I recently interviewed an expert in the field.
4. I interviewed Katherine O’Hearn, a Bio student at The University Of Guelph who has an expertise in this particular subject.
5. During that interview I asked Katherine What the effect of us having no more Wild bees would be and her answer simply shocked me.
6. Ms. O’Hearn informed me that without wild bees to pollinate certain crops we would lose a significant amount of fruits,vegetables and even certain crops like coffee and cotton that depend on some pollination from bees.
7. Who would’ve thought that losing bees would affect our coffee?
8. Imagine that, there are no more wild bees and that cup of coffee that you enjoy every morning is gone.
9. Another fact I learned through our interview was that cows that are raised for meat and dairy are fed with alfalfa, a crop that requires pollination.
10. So no more bees would even begin to affect our cows, which would then affect our meat that we eat.
11. Those bees that we think are just annoying an useless do more than we think, and it’s amazing to think that such a small insect could have such a large affect on our lives.
12. Katherine also made it a point to emphasize the fact that there is no single thing causing the decline of wild bees, it is a group of collective problems.
13. During our interview Ms. O’Hearn also offered some ways that we can try and preserve the bee population.
14. According to Katherine we can plant bee-friendly flowers and plants such as rose maries and honeysuckles, and set up a bee “watering station” which isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
15. Katherine also provided some solutions that the government can provide such as increasing the regulation of pesticides and having citizen education campaigns.
16. I would like to thank Katherine for participating in that interview an enlightening me so that I can now enlighten my listeners.
17. We need bees, we need to preserve them, protect them and we need to start taking action now.
18. I don’t know about everyone else out there but I like to have a variety of foods and drinks at my disposal, and if saving the bees will keep that variety where it is then I’m willing to contribute to this cause and so should everyone else.
19. You might not like coffee but you might like beef, or if you’re a vegetarian you like certain vegetables that need pollination.
20. Through further research that I conducted on my own I even found that almonds are another crop that is affected by pollination.
21. If we have an almond problem that would be bad for our society.
22. What if we can’t produce almond milk and things of that nature?
23. Then we can’t offer other alternatives to certain foods, some people cannot drink regular milk so they buy almond milk. If growing the almonds becomes harder to do because of a pollination problem the prices will rise or production of it will cease all together.
24. If we want to keep things the way they are then we need bees.
25. I know its hard to believe, all your lives you’ve probably believed that bees had no kind of affect on you or anyone else unless they gave you a bee sting.
26. But I hope that through listening to my podcast you have changed your minds.
27. I Urge you to go out and see what you can do, try and find organizations that you can contribute to, and things of that sort. Investing in bees is also an investment in our selves as well.
28. SFX: Music begins to play again
29. Thank you for tuning in to the “endangered zone” and make sure you tune in next week for another hot topic
30. See ya Next week folks

Great article! I love the title of the article, its actually why I picked to read this one over many others. I think your article was very strong especially because it pulled from many different articles. I loved how you kept your article not overly biased in the body paragraphs by showing both sides of the story; which is vital in a good natural resource management article! I think how you finished your article was really smart, because humour is a good method of making an interesting article, especially on a sad topic like declining bee populations. I don't really have a lot of improvements on this article because its really strong, but I guess make sure you don't overstate facts.