In recent years, the mysterious, rapid decline of global honey bee populations has prompted widespread scientific debate and confusion. The crisis has drawn the public into the very real threat of a world where there are fewer bees pollinating the crops that we depend on for not only economic success, but basic survival.
Beginning in the 1990s, unusual patterns of high mortality coupled with mysterious colony disappearances, also known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), have become the bitter norm faced by beekeepers in United States and Europe. In some instances, commercial honey bee populations have decreased by almost half in the last decade. This has, in turn, produced a damaging effect on agriculture; according to Greenpeace, “70 out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.”
These events have subsequently led to a growing awareness that we must help “Save the Bees” before a species that is so instrumental to the function of society is lost.
Scientists have identified several factors ranging from climate change to pesticide use that may contribute to the sudden dramatic decrease in bee populations. There is still research to be conducted, and no single answer exists when it comes to combating bee deaths and CCD. Various organizations have engaged in extensive campaigns to help save the bees, but we as individuals can also contribute by taking steps to help preserve the lives of bees.
Despite there being no simple path to solve such a crucial issue, here are some realistic ways to alleviate the effects of the honey bee decline:
Cease the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Although it can be tempting to control pests and weeds in your lawn or garden with chemicals, these can be very damaging to both wild and domestic honey bees. Especially in the neo-nicotinoid variety, including clothianidin, these substances are highly toxic to bees; however, they remain widely used in crop maintenance. If they are not directly affected by pesticides, bees can carry the chemicals in their pollen to their hive, where it can spread, increase in concentration, and become lethal over time.
Plant bee-friendly varieties of flowers. Choose to plant flowers that couple bee-friendliness with aesthetic appeal. The destruction of honey bee habitats as they are converted into monoculture practices and urban or suburban areas often leaves them desperate for suitable forage. The Honeybee Conservancy has created a guide for planting a bee garden here.
Purchase local fruits, vegetables, and honey. Avoid purchasing from monoculture-based farming practices, which support the eradication of natural biomes in favor of the large-scale planting of a single crop type. Instead, support local farmers, especially those that use integrated pest management methods to control pests naturally. These practices are the most beneficial to honey bee populations. Purchase local, raw honey that is chemically untreated. Show your support for beekeepers that favor organic approaches and care about honey bee preservation.
No perfect solution exists to the bee problem. However, by taking these steps, perhaps we can get closer to a world where honey bee species are under less of a threat and have a greater opportunity to thrive.