Bees. Even More Helpful Than You Might Think!
By Ahnika LeRoy, Contributor
Bee pollination is a vital planet-wide ecological service that is often overlooked and underappreciated. Honey bees influence the economy, agriculture, and biodiversity—they are an important part of maintaining agricultural strength. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more apparent that human activities are putting bees at risk. But despite worrying signs of bee disappearance, there are actions we can take to mitigate their decline.
Among bees’ most valuable contributions to the ecosystem is genetic biodiversity. Studies by J.E. Eckert have demonstrated bee colonies can travel more than four miles from the hive and traverse more than 32,000 acres on a regular basis for food. Collecting and redistributing plant pollen across that area exposes plants to great genetic variety that is useful in protecting them from disease.
Biodiversity is estimated to provide $319 billion in annual benefits in the United States. Bees and flowers have a symbiotic relationship in which flowers have evolved special mechanisms to attract bees and deliver pollen. Plants create nectar and pollen to appeal to bees—the more nectar and pollen the higher the flower’s chances for pollination.Over the past ten years, more than 40% of the bee colonies in the U.S. have suffered Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A recent Harvard Study to test the effects of pesticides on bees has correlated pesticide use and CCD. In the study, six out of twelve of the pesticide-treated colonies were lost, leaving abandoned hives that are typical of CCD.
Bee pollination facilitates the growth of at least 1/3 of the world's crops and 90% of wild plant life. One of every three bites a person takes comes courtesy of these buzzing pollinators. Without bees, we would lose many fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, including apples, plums, peaches, pears, alfalfa, strawberries, onions, avocados, cherries, flax, lemons, carrots, and cucumbers. It is estimated that $40 billion worth of U.S. agricultural produce each year is pollinated by bees. If the current rate of honeybee decline continues, it is estimated that $30 billion could be lost in agricultural revenue.
A number of government agencies are actively working to minimize honeybee population decline. A study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has labeled one pesticide, called clothianidin, as completely unacceptable for use. U.S. wildlife refuges are also protecting their bees from dangerous chemicals. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was unlikely to approve new or expanded uses of certain pesticides while it evaluates the risks they may pose to honeybees.
The EPA is conducting an assessment of the six types of neonicotinoids and their impact on honeybees, with their evaluation expected by 2018. The Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use neonicotinoids by 2016. Changes are being made on all levels of politics from international to domestic to make an effort to save the bees.
Though government organizations are beginning to take a leadership role, individual habits and choices can have a significant impact on bee populations. Keeping pesticide use to a minimum, supporting organics, and becoming a beekeeper are excellent ways for individuals to create a positive impact on the bee populace.
For home gardeners, there are many natural alternatives to pesticides. For example, aphids or plant lice can be warded off by planting chives, marigolds, mint, basil, or cilantro nearby, or by placing aluminum foil at the base of your plants. The foil reflects light onto the undersides of the leaves, which scares away aphids. For bigger animals like rabbits, sprinkle chili pepper around plants. These alternatives to pesticides don’t harm the bees, and the variety of plants can liven up any garden. In addition, alternative garden care is cheaper in some cases. Seaweed spray is about $13 a gallon, while traditional pesticides for small scale gardening can be as much as $45 a gallon. In addition to saving money on pest control, seaweed sprays and powders also act as fertilizer.
Buying organic is a way to support bee-friendly farming on an even bigger scale. The USDA organic certification assures that synthetic pesticides are not used on crops, allowing consumers to get a clean crop and protect the bees. The fewer pesticides used in agriculture, the more bees are saved from CCD.
Organic farms located near bees natural habitats have been shown to foster bee populations sufficient to pollinate crops, helpoing to save bees from extinction. Since farmers benefit from bee pollination, beekeepers rent out their hives to farmers. The farms provide beekeepers with income and receive pollination from the bees.
Becoming a casual beekeeper is another highly effective way to keep bee populations strong. Joining the ranks of backyard beekeeping can strengthen the bee gene pool by adding healthy local bees to the mix. Beekeeping can be a casual hobby or even a successful career. Some hives in exceptional climates can regularly produce over 200 lbs. in a year. On average a 200lb harvest can sell for $560 at current honey prices. The 2013 national honey crop was valued at $317.1 million; plus being a beekeeper means you’re never in short supply of high quality personal honey!
Bees are one of the most important creatures around us by providing over $40 billion in products and benefits, as well as irreplaceable value to the biosphere. Despite this, pesticides used on conventional crops and gardens are killing them. You can choose to help save 1/3 of our food and a keystone species by buying organic and skipping pesticides in your garden; and you can even earn a tidy profit by raising your own bees.
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Posted: August 7, 2015