Be mindful about bee threats

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There are many different threats, both human and natural, that are detrimental to bee populations. These were briefly mentioned in a previous post, but this post will go into more detail about the various threats and what can be done to reduce or stop them.

HUMAN THREATS:

  • Urbanisation – Urban developments and the growth of cities results in a decrease in bee populations due to the destruction of natural environments. To combat this threat, a variety of flowering plant species that are favoured by bees should be planted in urban and suburban environments to increase bee populations in these areas. Urban beekeeping can also tackle this threat as it reintroduces bee populations to urban environments.
  • Negative attitudes – Some people fear bees and view them as a threat to their safety. Due to this, wild beehives are destroyed and bees are unnecessarily killed. Bees shouldn’t be feared, and unlike wasps, they do not actively seek out humans to sting. Bees only sting, and rarely, when they feel their hive is being threatened. Bees should be celebrated and cared for as they have a great role in maintaining our natural environment. Educate others about the importance of bees and put down the bug spray. If you’re really worried about a beehive in your backyard, call up a bee removal service.
  • Agricultural industry – The agricultural industry has a massive impact on bees. It creates crop monocultures where only one or two species of plants are planted on one farm. Most of the time these plants aren’t even suitable for bees to thrive off, and the ones that are, like almonds, put bees in a stressful position as they have to be shipped in and shipped out for pollination. To reduce the threat of monocultures, farms need to start planting cover crops again. Cover crops, such as clover, alfalfa and grasses, are planted in-between crops to manage a number of things including soil erosion, soil quality and soil fertility. They are also planted to maintain diversity and wildlife, as they add one more dimension to plant diversity in farms which bees can feed from.
  • Pesticides – Harmful pesticides are widely used in the agricultural industry. They are a threat to bees because plants absorb the pesticides that are applied to them. Contact pesticides are directly sprayed onto the plant, whereas systemic pesticides are applied to the soil or onto seeds and move up the plants stem, leaves, nectar and pollen. A bee can experience harmful affects or even die if it crawls over the infected surface of a plant or ingests its pollen and nectar. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide, which can result in disorientation or death in bees. To combat this threat, you should avoid all pesticides when gardening at home and purchase organic, pesticide free fruit and vegetables to support the ecological and pesticide-free agricultural industry. Signing petitions like this one, to ban the use of pesticides, is also beneficial to stop this threat.

NATURAL THREATS:

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  • Parasites – The Varroa destructor mite is one of the worst parasites to affect bees. They are an external parasite that attaches itself to the back of bees and weakens the bee by sucking hemolymph, the blood-like fluid in the bees open circulatory system. A significant infestation of the mite will lead to the collapse of a bee colony as most bee species are defenceless to the mite. Originally, the mite came from Central-Asia, but it has spread globally to parts of Europe and the Americas possibly because of relaxed border control regulations. Thankfully the mite has yet to infect Australian bees, but we still need to maintain tough border control regulations to ensure that our bees stay healthy and mite free.
  • Diseases – Diseases such as Foul Brood and Nosema are harmful to bee populations. Foul Brood is caused by a spore-forming larvae, where young larvae ingest the spores from their food. The spores feed and grow off the larvae and eventually kill them. Nosema is a small fungus that infects bees and can result in reduced honey yield, dwindling populations and death. Unlike the case with the Varroa mite, these diseases can be easily treated with good management and proper medication. However, in some cases, entire hives must be destroyed.

What’s harmful to bees is harmful to me

You may be thinking “Why should I even bother helping the bees?” Well, bees actually play a huge role in our natural environment through their pollination. We often take for granted the important job bees have. You may not realise it, but bees are the reason the fruit, vegetables, nuts and plants you know and love exist. Without bees, you wouldn’t have the pleasure of enjoying all of these.

In the video, distinguished professor and entomologist Marla Spivak talks about the main multiple and interacting factors that are detrimental to the global bee decline. These are:

  • Flowerless Landscape
  • Monocultures
  • Pesticides
  • Parasites

FLOWERLESS LANDSCAPE:

Bees have been in decline since after WWII when farming practices were changed. Farmers stopped planting cover crops, including plants such as clover and alfalfa, which are highly nutritious food sources for bees. Weeds, whose flowers are another important food source for bees, were also eliminated through the use of herbicides. These practices resulted in a loss in the diversity of flowers bees feed from.

MONOCULTURES:

After WWII, farmers have also been systematically limiting the plants bees need for survival by planting larger crop monocultures. These farms became a food desert as they only grew one or two types of plants, such as wheat and soybeans. Monocultures that extend to crops bees like, such as almonds, which are a good source of protein for bees, have also had a great affect on bees. Bees have to be shipped in and shipped out in order to pollinate the almond flowers. We are planting more and more crops than the amount of bees there are, and this isn’t sustainable.

PESTICIDES: 

Pesticides are used on a large scale to combat the crop pests that are attracted to crop monocultures. Pesticides are harmful to bees as their residue is found on the pollen and nectar the feed from. Every batch of pollen has at least six detectable pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide. When it is used in high dosages, such as through ground application, it travels throughout the whole plant and gets into both the pollen and nectar. If a bee feeds of a plant with a high concentration of this neurotoxin, it will die. In most agricultural settings, only a smaller concentration is used. If consumed, either nothing happens or the bee may become disorientated and not know how to get back home.

PARASITES:

The Varroa destructor mite is one the worst parasites that can harm bees. They are a blood sucking parasite that attaches itself to the back of a bee, compromising its immune system and circulating viruses.

When a bee is affected by the lack of a flowerless landscape and crop monocultures, we are also affected as it impacts our agricultural and natural ecosystems by reducing the amount of foods available to us and limiting the diversity of plants that grow around us. When a bee is affected by pesticides, we are also affected because, as well as reducing the population of bees, we are also consuming plants full of pesticide. When a bee is affected by a parasite, we are affected because it reduces the number of bees we need to pollinate our crops. When a bee is harmed, we are also harmed.  

These factors show why it is important that as a global community we start to spread awareness and take action towards the issue of global bee decline. There is hope for the bees, and in two simple ways you can help them. We need to start planting bee friendly flowers to increase plant diversity and avoid pesticide contamination of these plants. These individual efforts may seem small, but they will contribute to a larger grand solution that will help fight the global bee decline.