Backyard conservation to help save bees
When seven species of Hawaii’s yellow-faced bees were just addedto the endangered species list, it caused a buzz across the globe. But the endless battle is one our pollinator friends have been facing for some time and it's not just in the United States.
The Western honey bee Apis Mellifera, which accounts for most of the farmed colonies worldwide, is actually native to Europe.
Their decline has garnered considerable attention, but these domesticated colonies are not the biggest problem.
The importance of wild bees as pollinators is gravely understated. In fact, honey bees merely enhance the pollination efforts of wild insects making wild bees chief pollinators for indigenous plants and crops.
South Africa, which is home to nearly 1000 bee species, is globally recognized as a bee diversity hotspot.
Most of our bee species are endemic to the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes, therefore keeping these ecosystems healthy is vital for bee conservation in the region.
Southern African bee species face the same threats as bees worldwide, but without comprehensive documented records it is nearly impossible to effectively evaluate the health of local bee populations.
Bumble bees, with their unique sonication abilities are important pollinators of vegetables, fruit, oilseeds, legumes and fodder crops.
According to the IUCN red list, fifteen species of bumble bees are endangered of the 44 species assessed.
Unfortunately one of the key issues for the majority of bee species worldwide is insufficient data to evaluate the risks of extinction. For many species the lack of experts and funding for research is a major barrier in determining the extent of the problem.
What’s killing our bees?
The main threats to bees worldwide involve agricultural practices and the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
The use of herbicides to control weeds on croplands may seem harmless but for bees this means a greatly reduced diversity of food sources. As monocultures take over and wild flowers decline, so do bee populations.
Pesticides impair their neurological functions and affect their resistance to disease pathogens. Pesticide use has been identified as a major culprit in colony collapse disorder (CCD) whereby the workers of a hive mysteriously and abruptly abandon the colony.
In the past decade a number of policies have been written to regulate the use of neonicotinoid pesticides worldwide with a continent wide ban of certain bee-harming pesticides in Europe, but the rest of the world is not following suit fast enough.
Other contributing factors to bee decline include climate change, habitat loss, inadequate food supply and competition with non-native bees - all of which are human induced.
How declining bee populations impact us?
Aside from producing the sticky sweet nectar we all know and love, bees are responsible for the pollination of a vast percentage of flowering plants which include crops to the value of an estimated $186 billion annually.
This makes them not only incredibly economically important to humans but also responsible for the nutrition of many other species making them invaluable players in the ecosystem.
Declining bee populations affect much of our nut, fruit and vegetable production worldwide; not forgetting that honey itself which has been valued for centuries for both nutritional and medicinal benefits also accounts for substantial economic profit.
And as the main pollinators of flowers, a world without bees would also be a lot less pretty. But before we commence the moment of silence and wait for the world to end…
What can we do for bees?
Here are things we can do at home to help:
Plant a variety of bee-friendly flowers in your garden and encourage wild flower growth. Not all "weeds" are bad and many provide a valuable food source for native bees. It’s always a good idea to keep things indigenous, so look up the bee-friendly plant species in your area.
Research conducted by the Honeybee Forage Project showed that indigenous trees and shrubs, flowering plants in suburban gardens and even roadside wildflowers or weeds are all critically important to South Africa’s indigenous honey bees. Here is a list of forage resources for honey bees in South Africa courtesy of the Institute for Landscape Architecture in S.A. (ILASA).
Once you start attracting bees to your garden make sure to leave out fresh water daily in something shallow. Bees need clean freshwater for drinking, food production and temperature regulation.
It's best to avoid using pesticides, but if you really need to, rather try natural forms of pest control.
Create a bee habitat in your garden. Here is a great resource on providing nesting sites for wild bees put together by The Xerces Society and here is a cool instructional from the National Geographic resource library.
Bees seldom sting humans and usually only do when they feel aggravated or threatened so unless you’re allergic, don’t be a pansy - plant one.
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