We talk about preserving bees a lot in this magazine. That’s because bees and other pollinators are a vital part of our environment, from backyard gardening to agriculture. The amount of agriculture reliant on insect pollinators has increased by 300 percent over the last 50 years, and the estimated global economic value of insect pollination is $295 billion. According to the USDA, pollinators are responsible for generating one out of every three bites of food in the United States.
Honeybees carry out 80 percent of insect crop pollination. Bees are considered a keystone group in an ecosystem, meaning their role is so important that their removal can cause the entire system to collapse. However, over the last 50 years, the number of managed honeybees (hives maintained by beekeepers) has declined. Each winter since 2006, about 30 percent of beehives have collapsed due to a variety of factors. These include pesticide exposure, a loss of genetic diversity due to overbreeding of certain strains, and single-crop planting, which leaves little room for wild pollinators.
Each of us has a role to play in conserving bee populations. Fortunately, we can take many actions to help stop the epidemic of bee colony collapse. Here are a few things you can do to get involved:
Plant for Pollinators.
While many gardens are bee-friendly, a little planning can turn them into a pollination paradise. Bees prefer simple flowers such as bee balm, butterfly weed and asters. Some ornamental plant varieties have the nectar and pollen bred out, so do some research before you plant. Find a list of drought-tolerant pollinator plants here.
Provide Bee Habitats.
Many yards lack suitable places for bees to nest. Consider leaving a few bare patches of earth in the garden for mining bees, or leaving a few dead tree branches for solitary bee species. You can also try building your own bee house. Get instructions here.
Support Local Beekeepers.
Buy only local, raw honey. Most farmers markets include beekeepers. Or, look for grocery store products marked “pure” and “raw” and that explicitly state they are from chemical-free hives.
Join a Conservation Campaign.
Many regional and national groups are committed to conserving bees. Become a citizen scientist by noting bee sightings and reporting them to a local conservation group, or a national one such as Bumble Bee Watch.
Check out these organizations for information on habitat stewardship, reporting bee sightings and supporting educational events and programs that spread the word about bee and pollinator conservation:
• The American Beekeeping Federation
• The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
• The Honeybee Conservancy
• Pollinator Partnership
• The Great Sunflower Project