Honeybees are sort of like the pandas of the pollinator conservation world—everyone’s fixated on them because they’re beautiful and compelling in a sort of strange way, but they’re not the only game in town. We may be approaching the solution to the problem of colony collapse disorder from the wrong angle, even as the White House announces a national strategy to tackle the issue.
— Mashable (@mashable) May 19, 2015
please never kill honey bees ok thank you
— internet gf (@lauraob_) May 10, 2015
The question may not be not just how we can save honeybees—some of the most critical pollinators in the world—but how we can promote the growth and development of other pollinating species at the same time.
Cross-pollination like that performed by honeybees is vital for crop survival. The Natural Resources Defense Council notes that 30 percent of crops grown worldwide need cross-pollination to thrive, and the statistics are even more critical for wild plants—90 percent of species need the services of bees and other creatures to survive. In the United States alone, bees are credited with a nearly $15 billion to the economy through their yeomanly service in the fields.
Which pollinators are the most important, and how can we protect not just the economy, but our very survival?
These tiny insects are among the most critical for crop survival, which is why they’re getting an outsized amount of attention, especially online, where they even have their own Twitter hashtag.
— Dawn Olsen (@SunriseDMO) May 19, 2015
Hey bee keepers of the twittersphere. Anyone want to join us in an exciting project to monitor your bee hives? #savethebees
— Hive (@HiveIT_uk) May 19, 2015
The trouble with bees is that colony collapse disorder has been devastating their populations, and despite extensive research, scientists aren’t really sure why. Abuse of pesticides is one possible culprit, with a class of plant treatments known as neonicotinoids being of particular concern. A rise in pathogens like fungi and bacteria is another possible cause, along with introduced species. According to the EPA, however, CCD is on the decline—while it still dominates fear-mongering headlines, the problems facing bees have moved on.
Researchers and the public are floating solutions for protecting declining honeybee populations, from the sensible to the absurd. Controlling the use of pesticides, using companion planting to attract bees, and creating protections around hives are examples of potentially low-cost, high-benefit approaches to the problem.
2) The Real Bees of Atlanta (and elsewhere)
Honeybees eat all the headlines, but as Gwen Pearson points out at Wired, they’re not the bees you’re looking for, and they’re not the ones that should be a primary point of concern. As a domesticated species raised all over the world, honeybees are unlikely to face extinction, even as individual hives struggle for survival.
“The bees you should be concerned about are the 3,999 other bee species living in North America,” she writes, “most of which are solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees you’ve never heard of. Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening.”
If you want to impress your friends with hipster conservation, tell them that you care about bees so obscure that they’ve probably never heard of them. Research suggests, she explains, that wild bee populations appear much more sensitive to pesticides and plant treatments—which means these fragile pollinators are being eliminated at an alarming rate.
And we know next to nothing about what’s killing them and how to protect them.
The birds and the bees are about more than awkward conversations with your parents. A huge range of bird species—especially hummingbirds and honey eaters (who, contrary to their name, eat nectar, not honey)—play a critical role in pollination. These birds have special adaptations to help them access nectar buried deep within flowering plants, and they have a symbiotic relationship with their food sources—on their way out of the nectar bar, they take some pollen with them, carrying it with them as they flit to the next source of food.
However, birds are facing numerous challenges around the world. One is the phenomenon of habitat fragmentation, where formerly contiguous habitats are being broken into chunks as a result of development and poor environmental policy. This makes it challenging for birds to nest, find food, and breed—all of which leads to declines in pollinating bird species.