Saving the Bees? Which Ones?

You have most likely heard about the bee crisis. Bees are on the decline. This crisis has been given much attention because of the threat to food supply. Roughly 75% of globally important food crops depend to some degree on pollination. Losing pollinators would lead to a global food crisis. These pollination services are delivered by a wide variety of species including more than 20,000 species of bees as well as butterflies, flies, and many species of vertebrates.

There have been campaigns to save the Honey Bee citing the food crisis as one reason. One thing to note in this Honey Bee crisis is that Honey Bees are not Native to the United States. The Western Honey Bee ( Apis mellifera ) is native to parts of Europe. The Honey Bee has been captive bred for the purpose of honey production and crop pollination. Even the Honey Bees talked about in Europe, while originally native to the area, are “managed” Bees.

So when you are hearing about the plight of the Honey Bee most of the time they are speaking of the human raised Honey Bee.

Native wild pollinators are on the decline as well. That is a crisis since wild pollinators provide the same services for us. They also pollinate our crops. Beyond that they pollinate native wildflowers and other native plant species and are an important part of the food chain and the ecosystem. Losing any part of an ecosystem leads to weakening and even collapsing that system. The system that keeps us breathing and alive. The system that makes the world go ’round.

Studying what is killing off the Honey Bees and leading to Colony Collapse Disorder CCD will no doubt help us understand why the wild native populations are suffering. The many factors associated with their decline such as neonicotinoids, parasites and disease have also impacted the wild populations. Other factors such as feeding Honey Bees sugar water to increase honey production reduces the Honey Bee’s immune system leading to their decline is a managed bee issue.

The Honey Bee crisis has led to initiatives to save the Honey Bee by encouraging and even training people to raise their own Bees for honey production. So now Honey Bee are no longer found just near crops. They populate cities and urban areas with natural habitats and no crop fields.

As a result scientists are seeing the impact managed Honey Bees are having on wild pollinators. Even in Europe where Honey Bees are native the managed bees are competing for food sources. Remember, honey bees are pollinating plants in exchange for the pollen and nectar for their own food, honey, which we then take. Honey bees do not restrict themselves just to crops. Especially when the crops have stopped blooming the Honey Bees have to still feed themselves so they venture past the crop field into the native pollinators territory.

So now you have wild pollinators struggling to survive because of the neonicotinoids making them more vulnerable to parasites and diseases add to that Honey Bees introduced to their territory and the competition becomes intense just because of he unnaturally high population of Honey Bees.

The introduced Honey Bees have also been found to spread diseases to the native wild bees through contaminated pollen, feces, and sharing flowers. In the United States hives are moved around the country following bloom times for different crops. This contributes to the spread of pathogens in a wider range.

Manged Honey Bees exacerbate an already vulnerable and declining wild population of native pollinators.

While taking measures to save the agricultural Honey Bees such as banning neonicotinoids will help Honey Bees as well as the Native Bees we need to take other threats into account while saving the Honey Bees.

Things to consider are:

  • Moving Honey Bees from crop fields once the bloom time is over will help stop the Bees from moving to the wild plants for food. The moved bees should be examined to reduce the spread of pathogens.
  • Reducing their numbers where they are used. We need to manage how many Honey Bees we let lose in the fields so they don’t out compete the native pollinators.
  • Not having Honey Bees near natural habitats or protected areas to eliminate competition altogether.
  • Before introducing Honey Bees to an area the wild pollinators, the habitat and the impact of the Honey Bees should be taken into consideration.
  • Plant strips of native wildflowers along crop fields to attract more native pollinators. Wild pollinators account for as much as 50% of the pollination services of crops. Planting native wildflowers along the crops has shown to increase native pollination of crops by as much as 25%. According to an article in The Cornell Chronicle by Krisy Gashler “An individual visit by a native bee is actually worth far more than an individual visit by a honeybee,” Danforth added. “Honeybees are more interested in the nectar. They don’t really want the pollen if they can avoid it. The wild, native bees are mostly pollen collectors. They are collecting the pollen to take back to their nests.” (The threats to the Native Bees had not been understood when this article was written.) Maybe then we won’t be so dependent on introduced Honey Bees. Working with Nature rather than against Her is often much healthier and sustainable.
  • More research on the threats to native pollinators who keep our forests and fields thriving and also pollinate our crops.

The rally cry to save the Honey Bee while important is not an environmental issue. It has been taking away from the plight of the native pollinators. Extensive studies have been done on what is making the Honey Bee populations decline. Very few have been made on native pollinators. While both share some of the threats the native pollinators have even more, the interference from humans with habitat destruction and introduced human raised Honey Bees.

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          Copyright Photo By Jill Pearson Native Bee food shopping on a native Golden Rod.

At Forgotten Nations we care about the health and safety of all animals including human raised. If people are going to raise Honey Bees for their purposes they need to do it in a healthy sustainable way that harms neither the Honey Bees nor the native pollinators.

So when you read or hear stories about saving the Bees ask if they are talking about agricultural Honey Bees or Native Bees. If it is Honey Bees, especially in the United States, it is about saving our food. If it is about Native Pollinators it is about saving the planet.

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