By Jay Van Tussenbrook
Bee colonies across North America are continuing to decline due to the mysterious "Colony Collapse Disorder". CCD is unlike anything entomologists and apiarists have see before. It is characterized by a curious disappearance of adult worker bees from the hive. These worker bees have the crucial job of bringing food and pollen back to the hive to feed the young brood of the hive as well as the queen. Often the queen is found wandering conspicuously about the hive, surrounded by only a few young adults. Curiously the hive is usually full of honey and pollen reserves, as well as unborn young. Previously when hives were abandoned all of the current brood had hatched out and very few unborn young were found. Also there is a distinct lack of bodies of the dead adult bees. They have simply disappeared. What is causing this? Scientists are baffled. It is clear though that it is not anything previously known.
European honeybees, while agriculturally important, are themselves a non-native species in North America.
What is known is that CCD has affected almost all apiaries in North America and is responsible for a loss of almost half the commercial bees in the United States. This is an alarming number when you realize that commercial bees in the United States account for 85-90% of the pollinators required to grow our food crops. Add in the fact that pollinators of all kinds are on a general decrease in North America and you end up with a picture that looks increasingly frightening for everyone.
The new awareness of the plight of honeybees due to CCD has brought this discussion into the public spotlight, culminating this week in the first ever National Pollinator Week (June 24-30th). As part of the larger NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign) this week will be filled with information and activities designed to bring a better awareness to the serious situation facing all North American pollinators today.
Celebrations and educational activities are scheduled all across the nation, including the unveiling of a new series of pollinator stamps from the US post office. Pollinator conservation advocates in the U.S. Senate will be pushing for the passing of a pollinator habitat protection act, as well as the promotion of conservation language in the current farm bill, and a pollinator research bill.
Crane Flies or Mosquito Hawks don't really eat mosquitos, they feed on nectar and are considered a pollinator species.
Though this issue is now being discussed in scientific and government circles, the everyday citizens of our country ask themselves, what can we do? The first step is to educate yourself about pollinators. To start with there are a lot more pollinator species than just honeybees. Bumble bees, mason bees, wasps and flies are all becoming popular pollinators in the wake of our honeybee problems, but some of the less well-known species include birds, especially hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, crane flies and bats. Many of these species pollinate only a few specific plants, and they can be so tied to these plants that should one die out, the other will most definitely suffer for it. In fact habitat degradation is one of the problems faced by pollinator species that is most often blamed for their current problems. Other challenges faced by our pollinators include pesticide and herbicide use, climate change, a lack of floral diversity, and aggressive competition from non-native species of plants and animals.
It is important to note that in North America the European honeybee is in fact a non-native species. Imported to help farmers pollinate large fields of crops. The impact of honeybees on native pollinators is largely unknown, however it is worth noting that without them our modern agricultural practices would most likely prove unsustainable.
Some birds, including hummingbirds are also considered pollinator species.
Once you understand some of the challenges that face our pollinators you will be in a better position to do something about it. On our farms, property, or just in our yards we can all make a difference. Provide the right flowering plants for food and pollen gathering. Don't use pesticides or herbicides that could be potentially harmful. Provide nesting sites and places to over winter, like old snags, fallow ground, or even mason bee blocks. The pollinator partnership is offerin a free pollination garden wheel to help you choose plants for your garden that will promote healthy habitat and food sources for your local pollinators.
Our pollinators are an important piece of our tapestry of life on this world. Without them we may find ourselves faced with the challenge of dwindling food resources, and a world much decreased in biodiversity. It is imperative that we solve the mystery of CCD and stop the alarming decrease of our pollinator species. Each of us doing what we can is a step in the right direction. With many such steps we can hope to forge a path into the future where we build a strong and healthy relationship with bees, birds, bats, beetles, and all our pollinators. We depend on them for a lot. Now they are depending on us.
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