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The Buzz on Bees: Tracking the Pollinators

The Buzz on Bees: Tracking the Pollinators

Pollinators are in trouble. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), a widespread and still unexplained phenomenon in which adult bees from honey bee colonies suddenly disappear, entered the language in 2006. Hundreds of thousands of bats have died from white-nose syndrome (WNS), another poorly understood malady that appeared a few years ago. A 2006 National Academy of Sciences report concluded that pollinator populations are moving demonstrably downward. Pollinator decline has been attributed to loss of habitat, monoculture agriculture, pesticides, pollution, and disease.

 

There are other pollinators, of course, including moths, butterflies, beetles, and hummingbirds. One-third of our food depends on pollinators. But pollinators are also “keystone species,” because entire ecosystems depend on them. Problems for pollinators spell big trouble for us.

It was with thoughts like these that I set out on the July 4th weekend. While friends were heading to the beach or the country, I stayed behind in my Brooklyn neighborhood to go beewatching. I am participating in the Great Pollinator Project, a citizen science program in New York City that is collaborating with a national program based in San Francisco called the Great Sunflower Project. Both programs entail planting seeds to grow bee-friendly flowers. But in New York City, you can watch and report on bee visits to any of 12 flowers, including sunflowers, milkweed, dandelions, smooth asters, and purple coneflowers.

As I live in a co-op apartment, I walked a few blocks to a neighbor’s garden, which was full of coneflowers that were, I am happy to say, abuzz with bumble bees. I carefully filled out my data collection sheet, with time, number of bee visits and flowers, and weather conditions and submitted it online. These reports will help scientists learn more about how bees are doing in urban areas. (Bees can thrive even in the middle of big cities; there are, for instance, more than 60 bee species in Central Park.)

This sort of project is scientifically useful and, well, fun. There is something serene and Zen-like about standing in a garden, inhaling the perfume of flowers, listening to the zzzz of insects, and mindfully focusing on a flower. It’s also kid-friendly. There are myriad opportunities to learn more about nature and the amazing lives of social insects. For more information on pollinators, the Care2 group Help the Honey Bees! is an amazing resource of background information.

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18 comments

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4:23AM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak with a beekeeper at a local village show and of course, our conversation centered around the decline of bees not only in the UK, but world-wide. The usual culprits were discussed, chemicals sprayed on farmlands and home gardens, seeds pretreated with chemicals which are drawn into the plant as it grows and of course habitat destruction. However, this beekeeper told me something else which involves the mites which infect bees. He said that researchers had developed a way of protecting bees from the devastating mites which make the bees immune to further attacks by these mites, but the chemical companies were not interested in investing because it would not be profitable to them! That the bees could be protected for life by one application of this product, therefore cutting out the need to reapply the treatment each year.
So it seems that the corporations which should have a moral obligation to protect the world's pollinators are more concerned about profit over sustainability! $alve Lucrum!
(unfortunately I have no link to provide as this was a conversation, but the validity of it sounds true)

5:35PM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Is anyone asking whether the widespread consumption of honey has an effect on bees? I mean, everyone knows that issues can add up and present themselves long after the problem begins.

I would say that even if they refuse to look into it, reducing consumption of honey couldn't hurt. The best healthy, natural sweetener I've ever had is agave nectar. If anyone is concerned about honey, I highly recommend it.

2:17PM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

For a long while I was very sad and concerned to see only dead or dying bees around my yard. It was heartbreaking to see them flopping around on the ground, all disoriented and in some kind of agony, as though some invisible force was attacking them. But a few years ago I planted an eco-friendly, water-wise garden with many native plants. Now that the plants are all grown and flowering every year I am totally amazed at not just how many honey bees come to my yard but I'm noticing several different kinds that I've never ever seen before. I have even noticed a significant reduction in the number of dead bees from the years past. I don't know if one has to do with the other, but it is an amazing thing and I am honored to have them visit my yard.

Thanks for the article.

11:23AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Just joined the Great Pollinator Project! I'll be looking for the bees in Brooklyn. :)

6:59AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Just as man is a distroyer man can figure out a way to save the lives of all of our animals large and small but we had better do that today or all of us will be in big trouble and that is a fact.

MAY GOD BLESS US ALL NOW AND FOR ALL TIME AS I AM SURE HE WILL!!!

10:47PM PDT on Jul 11, 2009

Thanks for the news about catnip, Janine!! I live in the desert, but know there are some plants that thrive in heat if given a chance for some shade and water. I will give this a try - already have a huge palo verde tree that the bees spend a month or so in every spring, but every little bit helps!

2:06AM PDT on Jul 11, 2009

Man, as a species, is fowling his nest. Next in line will be insects or arachnids. I hope they're smarter.

8:26PM PDT on Jul 10, 2009

I too am deeply concerned about the bee population, and I also appreciate the thoughtful comments made here. I have a small front yard where I removed the lawn and planted native trees, plants and bushes a few years ago. Not a very large amount, but I have a steady stream of bees, different varieties, visiting each day. I smile whenever I see them. I ask them to please stay and multiply!

7:16PM PDT on Jul 9, 2009

Surely someone is looking into the practice of genetic engineering of flowers (seed) and food plants. This seems could be likely contributing cause.

3:08PM PDT on Jul 9, 2009

I am a member of the friends of Honey Bees Group. All of our pollinators are in serious decline. If you want to help go to the Friends of Honey Bees Groups. Learn about their species, nesting habits, habitat requirements and how to plant your garden in your region to be attracts bees.

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