By Savannah Rainey
Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. The number of hives is the lowest it has been in the past 50 years, with United States commercial honey beekeepers losing up to 30 percent of their colonies each winter, up from an historical average of 10-15 percent, according to a 2014 White House press release.
The number of managed colonies in America has dropped to just 2.5 million, compared to 6 million in 1947. This phenomenon is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Experts believe it's caused by a number of contributing factors, including global warming, pesticide use, habitat loss and parasites.
Colony Collapse Disorder isn't just bad for the bees. It's a natural and economic disaster, as bees are a crucial part of the ecosystem. They are responsible for pollinating about 1/3 of all food crops worldwide and 90 percent of wild plants. From an economic standpoint, as stated in a pamphlet released in 2011 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that translates to more than $15 billion a year in U.S. crops and $150 million in honey.
According to The Honeybee Conservancy, crops depending on bees include almonds, watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, cherries, oranges, peaches, kiwifruit, cucumbers, squash, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra.
Efforts to Help the Bees
Several government and corporate entities are taking steps to try and lessen the number of bees that are being destroyed.
Lowes, for example, committed to phasing out the use neonicotinoid pesticides by 2019. The pesticides are commonly used to protect farm crops, landscape plants and trees, but research suggests that the toxic chemicals found in the pesticides causes bees to become more susceptible to parasites and pathogens and cause bees to "experience problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity and slower learning of new tasks, which all impact foraging ability," according to a review of available research conducted by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
The Horticultural Research Institute is taking a different approach. As part of the Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative, they plan to grant a total of $125,000 in financial support for four research projects that aim to discover the exact causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (including more research into the effects of neonicotinoids) and figure out the best ways to solve the crisis.
In addition, the Obama Administration is trying to help protect the pollinators by designating approximately $50 million of the 2015 Budget to “enhance research at USDA and through public-private grants, strengthen pollinator habitat in core areas, double the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program that are dedicated to pollinator health, and increase funding for surveys to determine the impacts on pollinator losses.”
What can you do?
The best way to promote the wellbeing of bees and other pollinators is to grow plants that are good sources of pollen and nectar. Generally, wildflowers and other native species are the best bet, as are flowers with a single ring of petals, rather than those with many petals. Bees also seem to be more attracted to blue, purple and yellow flowers with flat or shallow blossoms. Some common flowers that will attract a wide variety of bees include:
- Agastache (anise hyssop)
- Asclepias (butterfly weed)
- Echinacea (coneflower)
- Geranium (cranesbill)
- Monarda (bee balm)
- Papaver (poppies)
- Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
- Trifolium (clover)
More specifically, there are plants native to different geographic areas that can be planted to attract certain types of pollinators. Pollinator.org is a good resource for figuring out which plants are best for specific geographical areas. The website includes free downloadable guides specifying the best plants for each geographic region in the U.S. and two regions of Canada. The guides are even broken down by which plants are best suited to specific pollinators (different types of bees, bats and butterflies). The site also includes gardening tips and links to several resources if you wish to find out more about pollinators and the issues they face.