Monday, April 25, 2011

How You Can Help Bees


Bees are disappearing. This phenomenon isn't a debate anymore, bees are disappearing in record numbers and we are on the verge of losing one of the single most important pollinators in the world. Bee pollination is responsible for about 1/3 of the food humans eat and over 10 billion dollars of US agriculture.

There are many theories as to why bee numbers have been in such high decline. The term "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD) is used to describe this increasing phenomenon, but what causes it is still a mystery. The long list of possible suspects has included pests, mites, viruses, fungi, destruction of natural habitat, and also pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. The big problem with colony collapse that makes determining the cause even more difficult is that the bees don't just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. The truth is probably that all of these things contribute to a loss of bee population, if not specifically through CCD.

We need to help the apians of our planet and there are several easy ways we can...
  • Buy certified organic food.
Organic food does not use the pesticides that have been associated with bee deaths. This has an added benefit of not exposing you or your family to pesticide laden foods.
The destruction of wildflower meadows has led to a marked decrease in the diversity of wild bee diet. Just as humans cannot live on one type of food alone, bees can suffer from nutritional deficiencies that make them more susceptible to the other factors that make up CCD.

Additionally, in large cities there are few places with large concentrations of wildflowers. Most parks are primarily grass from edge to edge. Wildflower planting on the side of highways is commonplace, but could contribute to automobile collisions with bees, further straining hives.

Wildflowers of many different types can make an attractive border to your yard and help support local wild bees. A typical neighborhood consists of a grass front lawn that is manicured, mowed, and boring. If even half of the people on your street replaced a dull front lawn with wild flowers, could you imagine the change you would see in not only the population of pollinators (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.) but also the aesthetic improvement?

Switching to wildflowers provides several added benefits. Front yards require less maintenance than with a lawn, from mowing to watering. There is less need for toxic chemicals (herbicides and pesticides) to maintain a "perfect" weed free front lawn. Since most bees actually nest underground in small burrows (prevented by the dense roots of grass), there is more opportunity for this important pollinator to make a comeback. Check the link above for a list of the easiest plants to grow.

Knowledge is power, so learning about bees gives you the power to help them. The Berkeley page linked above has a wide assortment of information on what you can do to help. Bees provide us with more food than any other creature on earth. If the bees disappear, so too do we.


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Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

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