by chloebenko on November 8, 2017 - 10:45pm
Since the past centuries, many animals have gone extinct. Today, we are facing an alarming extinction of pollinators, especially of the honeybee population. The consequences of this extinction are very significant to human survival since they play an essential role in our food chain. Honeybees are the main actors responsible for the pollination of our flowers, fruits and vegetables. The majority of human food crops that supply the world's nutrition are pollinated by bees.
The decline of the bee population has been observed in many studies. Bees reproduce during summer and spring, and during the winter the growth of the population declines naturally. According to Greenpeace, a bee colony declines normally by 5-10 percent during the winter and it can go as low as 15-20 percent in a very hard winter. However, recently in the U.S., many cases are observed that the winter losses reached 30-50%, higher than ever before (Greenpeace). Also, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), in 1947, there were 5.9 million honeybee colonies, but in 1980, the number went down to 4.5 million colonies. Recently in February 2008, the number went to 2.44 million (National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2008). In only 3 decades, from 1980 to 2008, the decline is almost fifty percent of the initial number of colonies.
But why is the population of pollinators shrinking in the first place? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question, and instead it boils down to the combination of various factors.
A factor is the increasing use of insecticides on crops to keep unwanted insects away (Gous et al., 2017, p. 25). In order for farmers to keep producing a steady amount of food year after year, they must keep their crops bug-free, and they use insecticides to do that. Unfortunately, insecticides also end up killing bees which decreases the overall bee population.
Another factor that comes into play is climate change. Most species of bees have “narrow habitat requirements and produce single broods per year” (Gous et al., 2017, p. 25). Due to climate change, climate conditions are changing all over the world. This means that bees are having increasing trouble to reproduce due to improper climate conditions. Thus, decreasing rates of reproduction equals a decreasing bee population.
Last but not least, another important factor is the reduction of habitable land for bees. Because humans are consistently using more space for farming (e.g. food or maize for biofuel), housing, transportation, etc., we have to cut forests and develop over unused parcels of land. Unfortunately, those areas are areas where bees use to nest and reproduce (Monbiot, 2017). The more we destroy this type of land, the fewer bees there will be because we are destroying their natural habitat.
Many policies could help increase the number of pollinators, bees in particular. On a federal or provincial scale, regulation over the use of pesticides would be extremely beneficial as their use is directly related to the decreasing number of bees. On a municipal scale, two main alternatives can be considered: installing beehives and putting pollinator-friendly habitats in place. While both alternatives would involve supplementary costs for municipalities, they would provide valuable benefits to bee populations. Installing beehives encourages both the conservation of bees and the reproduction of plants and trees. Moreover, municipalities could also sell the honey to their inhabitants, which would encourage local consumption of sustainable products. Planting pollinator-friendly flowers has the advantage of helping other pollinators such as butterflies and bumblebees. According to Victoria Wojcik and Amber Barnes from the Pollinator Partnership organization, planting flowers is important, but also trees, shrubs, and different-sized perennial plants to offer protection to pollinators. Leaving some uncovered soil areas is also key for nesting. Finally, verifying that there are enough sources of water throughout the city and choosing flowers that attract pollinators must be done to ensure a good pollination (Wojcik & Barnes, p. 12).
If municipalities must choose one option over the other, we believe installing beehives would have a greater impact on the honeybee population, which is the issue we are addressing (Davis). Not only would it help the bee population, but it would also directly raise the population’s awareness about this environmental issue. The best solution would be to join both propositions as creating pollinator-friendly habitats would not only increase the population of bees but of other pollinators.
By: Calvin Liu, David Murray and Chloé Benko-Prieur
Davis, I. Dr. (2008, May 13). Ten things to do to help honeybees. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/may/13/wildlife.endangereds...
Greenpeace. (n.d.). Save the Bees. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/sustainable-agriculture/save-the-bees/
Gous, A., Willows-Munro, S., Eardley, C., & Swanevelder, Z. (2017). Pollination: Impact, role-players, interactions and study - A South African perspective. South African Journal Of Science, 23-30. doi:10.17159/sajs.2017/20160303
National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2008, February 29). Honey. Retrieved from http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/nass/Hone//2000s/2008/Hone-02-29-20...
Monbiot, G. (2017, October 20). Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown. Retrieved November 08, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farm...
Wojcik, V. & Barnes, A. (n.d.). Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers in the St. Lawrence Lowlands Ecoregion. Retrieved from http://pollinator.org/assets/generalFiles/StLawrence-2017.pdf