Colony collapse disorder has been on the rise among domestic bees. But the problem for native beens is harder to measure, write two Selkirk College students. Black Press file photo

COLUMN: Why bees in B.C. need to stay busy

How a decline in bees could affect our food supply

By Emily Bailey and Brody Kunze

When you think of bees, you may think of the typical honeybee buzzing around from flower to flower gathering nectar and pollinating as they go. As we all know, pollination is essential for plant reproduction and subsequently fruit development. It’s also critical for the overall health of our gardens and forests in British Columbia.

Bees are responsible for pollinating 70 to 95 per cent of all flowers which in turn supports one-third of the world’s food supply. There are 800 bee species in Canada and 450 of these species in British Columbia, all of which compete for a common resource.

In recent years we are seeing an increase in colony collapse disorder (CCD). The loss of domesticated bees are easily measured as they are managed for agriculture use in above-ground hives, however the losses to native bees are much harder to measure, and they account for 80 per cent of pollination. Although not fully understood, CCD may be caused by numerous stressing factors including habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, and increased spread of pests and disease.

Large scale agriculture and monocrop production usually leads to less habitat and reduced opportunity for bees to gather nectar. This can create competition between native and non-native bees and can lead to poor nutrition and weakened immune systems. Beekeepers can provide their hives with food when necessary, however wild bee populations will inevitably suffer from food shortage.

Bees suffering from CCD can have a difficult time navigating, leaving the hive in search of pollen but getting lost and never returning. Fewer adults in the hive means less food for the young, fewer defenders of the nest, and more food raids by bees from healthy colonies. Pesticides inhibit bee development, and when they smell fungicide it makes it difficult for them to navigate to food sources.

Pesticides also accumulate in soil which has even longer lasting effects. These stressing factors and others have been shown to make bees more susceptible to pests such as Varroa mites, and disease.

There are a wide range of solutions to this impending problem, but perhaps the most unexpected one has just recently been discovered. A newly developed extract solution synthesized from common wood conk mushroom species has been shown to increase longevity and reduce viral burden by 75 per cent when fed to bees.

The mushroom extract will soon “bee” available with a specially developed bee feeder that anyone can purchase and deploy in their own yard!

Collaborations between farmers and beekeepers should consider reduced spraying during bloom, alternatives to pesticide use, and the integration of companion planting. Other considerations to help out include enhancing bee habitat and feeding opportunities on your properties. Planting major nectar producing tree species like pears, apples, plums, apricots, peaches.

Wild bees especially benefit from a variety of native wildflowers that bloom from fall to winter, providing a reliable food source through the whole season. Finally, think about building a bee box to provide a home for wild bees. The internet is full of design options.

The most important thing is to continue the conversation and work together to bolster the bee population and find solutions to this growing threat.

Emily Bailey and Brody Kunze are recreation, fish and wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar.

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