Native bees, conservation

In recent years the general public has become aware that honeybees are in serious trouble. What most people don’t know is that not just honeybees, but also some native bees and other pollinators, seem to be suffering difficulties for a number of reasons. Unfortunately we know so little about this huge number of species of bees that it is hard to assess fully the situation and the causes. Buchmann and Nabhan called attention to this problem as early as 1996 in their book, The Forgotten Pollinators. There, they discussed the need to learn more about native pollinators and to take steps toward protecting them.

It may seem strange to most but honeybees may be contributing to the extinction of some native bees. Honeybees can out-compete many of them. We can only guess what the impact of the arrival of honeybees has been on the populations of native bees starting with the early settlers.

It appears that, as in many other cases, habitat reduction and fragmentation affect the populations of native bees. Pesticides are without doubt bad for many species of native bees. This became dramatically apparent in New Brunswick, Canada years ago when the blueberry crop was disastrously low, despite the fact that the plants appeared healthy. Finally, it was found that the battle to control the spruce worm in the nearby forests had wiped out the native bees. Blueberry farmers started a litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada until they succeeded at placing restrictions on the use of pesticides. It took a number of years before the populations of bees were restored and the blueberry crops became plentiful again.

The situation of native bees in the United States has caused enough concern that the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report titled “Status of Pollinators in North America” in October, 2006. The document presents conclusive evidence of downward long-term trends of the populations of some native pollinators, including solitary bees and especially some bumblebee species. Additional data on trends and their causes keeps coming in recent publications.

Some of the recommendations of the Research Council are the creation of economic incentives for the study of bee populations through a system of long-term monitoring and for the development of practices promoting pollinator preservation. Another recommendation is to encourage land managers and owners, including farmers and homeowners to develop “pollinator-friendly” practices, many of which require only a small increase in expenditures.

A number of organizations are creating pollinator gardens with the types of plants and habitats that benefit bees and other pollinators. The Xerces society supplies information to those who want to start one.

In Canada the citizens of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have gone a step further creating the world’s first Pollinator Park at the Eastview landfill site. In part they were inspired by the experience with the blueberry pollination disaster. They are turning an ordinary landfill, about one hundred acres, into an oasis for bees and other pollinators with the right plantings and proper habitat for nesting.

Status of Pollinators in North America . The National Academies.
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
How to Protect and Enhance Habitat for Native Bees.

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