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Native Bees to the Rescue

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Bees may not qualify as charismatic megafauna, but they do, or should, attract the attention of anyone who eats fruits, vegetables or nuts, or whose livelihood depends on growing these crops.
 
The sudden collapse of honeybee colonies — Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) — has been reported throughout the U.S. and elsewhere since the mid-1980s. Explanations include a combination of lack of adequate nectar and pollen, disease, the stress of transporting hives over thousands of miles, and pesticides.

While the destruction of natural habitat and use of pesticides can have dire effects on all pollinators (flies, birds, bats as well as bees), the focus has been on the big money-maker — the “domesticated” European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Half of the honeybee hives in the U.S. (1.25 million) are loaded onto trucks and driven to California every year to pollinate crops in the state’s $28 billion ag industry. About 40% ($11 billion) of California crops rely pollinators; some, like almonds and watermelons, are nearly completely dependent on bees.

The Cornell Daily recently published an article entitled “Disappearance of nature's 'social insect' creates new problems and solutions for New York's apple industry.” Entomology professor Bryan Danforth reported on Cornell’s participation in nation-wide research on native bees (there are about 4,000 species in North America) and the potential for appropriately-managed ecosystems to support them, thereby reducing the enormous economic threat represented by the loss of the European honeybee. Both Danforth and other researchers describe how smaller, more diverse agricultural systems, that include or are located near native habitat, have sufficient native pollinators and do not need trucked-in honeybees. The key is to ensure that there is a nearly constant supply of floral and nesting habitats (such as trees and undisturbed bare ground) for the native bees — they’ll do the rest.

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