Today is Earth Day, a good time to think about environmental problems. I thought I would highlight just one of many such issues by focusing on the recent widespread die-off of honeybees. Although the domesticated honeybee (Apis mellifera) is not native to the United States, it is an integral part of our agricultural success (see the poster above). The causes of the recent die-off are thought to include parasites, pathogens, poor nutrition, and pesticides. While we may not be able to eliminate all of these problems, they can all be controlled to some extent, and almost anyone can help.
One of the major issues leading to honeybee die-off is the way crops are pollinated. Large numbers of bee colony hives are transported long distances to pollinate crops as needed. This causes overcrowding of bees from many colonies in one area, which facilitates transmission of parasites and pathogens and can result in colony collapse disorder. Poor nutrition can also be a problem, because of the tendency to grow crop monocultures, giving the bees little diversity in food sources.
What can you do to help? If possible, start your own hive! The more isolated each bee colony is from others, the less likely it is that pests and diseases will spread. If you know of a bee colony that has naturalized in your area, try to keep it protected, or have a local bee club remove it to a safer location rather than allowing it to be destroyed. Anyone with a garden can help bees tremendously by avoiding the use of pesticides and planting bee-pollinated flowering plants that can give these insects a greater variety of food sources. The plants will help not only honeybees, but native bees and butterflies as well, which are also important pollinators. By keeping all pollinators healthy, we can keep our native plants as well as our food crops healthy, and healthy plants contribute to a healthy planet!
Taking care of pollinators is just one way we can all help to care for our planet. One small act by many people can indeed make a difference, and I hope we all can contribute on Earth Day and every day to make a this world a safer, healthier, better place for all of its inhabitants.
|Honeybee on aster flower (from Wikimedia Commons)|