Lately, it seems as though the phrase “save the bees” has been plastered everywhere: shirts, baseball caps and even on friends’ Instagram posts. Often, when the phrase “save the bees” appears, little information is given concerning what the bees need to be saved from or what everyday people can do to help.
According to many experts of entomology, there is a legitimate cause behind the phrase. Daniel Borkoski, a technician at the university’s apiary and a research associate in the Delaney Lab, identifies Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) — sometimes referred to as Colony Collapse Syndrome — as one of the major threats to bee populations in the United States.
“Honeybee decline arose in 2006 when CCD became identified and named,” Borkoski says. “That’s when a lot of the public was alerted to the plight of honeybees. Since then, we’ve identified a lot of different things that are contributors to CCD, like a loss of habitat, poor nutrition, pests, different diseases that go along with parasites on bees and pesticide exposure.”
While much of the recent attention has been focused solely on efforts to “save” honey bees, it is important to acknowledge that many native species of bees also face similar struggles. Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the university, encourages others to remember that taking care of species that are native to the United States is equally important to taking care of honeybee populations.
Natalie Wong, a junior studying wildlife agriculture and natural resources, believes that climate change is having a negative impact on all bee populations, regardless of whether or not they are foreign or native.
“After winter, there’s a frost that’s affecting insects,” Wong says. “Insects come out and think that there’s food and plants that are blooming, but that’s not really the case because there’s another frost that comes and kills [food and plants].”
“We have 4,000 species of native bees and I don’t want them to be lost in the conversation,” Tallamy says. “They are vital to pollinating plants in North America.”
Although it might seem that efforts to make a positive impact on bee populations must be done on a larger scale, Boroski and Tallamy both believe that there is plenty that can be done at a small-scale level.
For native bees, Tallamy recommends straying away from the popular butterfly bush — known for attracting bees, butterflies and other insects — due to the properties of its nectar. According to Tallamy, plants like the butterfly bush are from Asia, which makes their nectar incompatible with North American bees. Tallamy advises garden owners to plant species that are native to North America, such as the goldenrod, native willows and native asters.
Meanwhile, Boroski advises individuals to be mindful of pesticide use, which was a major cause of 2006’s CCD catastrophe. Planting forage — in the form of plants that produce nectar — is also crucial to simulating bee growth. According to Boroski, discontinuing use of pesticide is not helpful to just honey bees, but also positively impacts native species of bees.
In spite of their small size, bees play a crucial role in the diets and economy of Americans.
“Insect pollinators are responsible for a huge amount in U.S. agriculture,” Boroski says. “We could potentially lose like a third of our diet, which is a lot of fruits and meat.”
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