Hear that? Neither do I. That is because the bees of the world could be in a spot of bother. A United Nations Environment Programme report notes bee number declines in Europe and North America (http://www.unep.org/dewa/Portals/67/pdf/Global_Bee_Colony_Disorder_and_Threats_insect_pollinators.pdf). Initially this could be seen to be a good thing, especially by those of us that were stung regularly as kids during the summer months. However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations of the 100 crop species which provide 90% of the world’s food 71 of these are bee pollinated. In Europe 4000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to bee pollination. In North America honey bees pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruit such as almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples, as well as crops like soybeans. As indicated in my “Economics of Nature” post, we may take these services for granted and assume they incur no cost but in Europe bees are responsible for crops worth between €22.8 and 57 billion. In 2000, the value of crops pollinated by bees was estimated at US$14.6 billion in the USA.
The reasons for this decline are many and varied and include habitat destruction resulting in a reduction in the number of flowering plants, infection with Varroa mites (not found in Australia at present) and other pathogens, and exposure to insecticides and air pollution.
Solutions include habitat conservation and putting more flowering plants into the ground. As well as benefitting your bees this will also help the local bird populations much more than a few handfuls of mouldy seed on a bird feeder will. Farming without insecticides is also likely to be beneficial. If you are really keen you could always establish a hive yourself and listen to Noah Wilson-Rich’s TED talk focussed on establishing urban bee hives (http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees.html), which will brilliantly complement the urban vegetable gardens mentioned in my previous post.
Dr. F. Bunny