Monday, November 7, 2016

Diversity is Key: Protecting Our Native Bees and other Pollinators.

The key message we took away from our latest forum on helping native bees and other pollinators?

 Diversity is what matters: we need habitat diversity as well as maintaining bee diversity.

A trio of experts in their individual field of work informed the audience on exactly what the issues are and how we, as every day folk, can make a difference.

We kicked off the evening with Dr. Peter Kevan, Professor Emeritus at Guelph University. Kevan went into detail about why we need to be taking care of our native bee populations in the first place.

According to Kevan, in Canada, we don’t have a decline in honeybee population--or at least, not like what the US is experiencing! Instead, honeybees are essential because wild bees are being eliminated. Native bees are getting cut out of the picture for obvious reasons, including habitat lose. But we need pollinators in agriculture, so we buy honeybees.

What's more, wild bees increase production yield. “Botanically, this relationship is not fully understood,” Kevan said, about the benefits of bee diversity to crop yield. But it's a very important one. Delicious fruits like blueberries are better serviced by wild bees—they can take on 70 species of pollinating bees. The orchard bee is cold tolerant, forages widely and doesn’t sting. Bumblebees pollinate greenhouse tomatoes. (Kevan pointed out that Canadians can be proud that we were one of the countries putting forward this bee technology).

What can we do to protect bees from the point of view of agriculture?
Kevan suggests we consider fields with windbreaks. In the field, practice low tillage and rotation, "everything that we can do to diversify the habitat." Make use of berms and hedges, conservation strips in fields and floral resources across the seasons. Remember that weeds are important resources.

In our city gardens, Kevan suggests that we can do our part for solitary bees by making sure to leave habitat such as twigs and bare ground for hole and ground nesters.

Biodiversity in Cities: Ecosystem functioning, and Green Infrastructure.

Central Park School, Hamilton. Photo Credit by Lubmila Shkoda.
Next up was the captivating Dr. Scott MacIvor, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Toronto (Department of Biological Science and the Faculty of Landscape Architecture).
MacIvor shared with the audience that so much has been learned in the past 6 years; at least 6 papers are published daily on bees.

It was fascinating to hear that wild bees are generally happy, they can count to 4, and they are much more diverse that we thought. “Every female is her own queen,” MacIvor said. And with over 364 kinds of wild bees in our region, “Bees are important, bees are diverse and we know more about wild bees than anywhere else in the world.” That’s something to be proud of!

Benefits of pollinators, native plants: green space, green city.

MacIvor works with designers who are tasked with creating habitat for bees.

Rusty patched bumblebee
“There’s something about bees that make them so suited to our urban landscape,” MacIvor said. But while some adapt, others don’t—that is, some are winners and some lose out. And make no mistake, we are losing species. The extirpated “rusty patched bumblebee” is one such example.

When it comes to the impact honeybees have on wild bees, "it is negative," according to MacIvor. There’s competition for food and other resources as well as competition for research dollars. As well, honeybees spread disease.


There is so much to learn about the habits of bees. "75% of bees are ground nesting, but we don’t know where they are nesting," said MacIvor.  In Toronto, where MacIvor lives and researches, public parks have sandy soils that are very accommodating to bee species.

"Honeybees are willing to die to safe their queen. Rarely, if ever are we stung by the wild bees that permeate our city," MacIvor said.

When we have more different bee species visiting a particular flower, we have more yields. "That is, it’s not the frequency of visits, it’s the diversity of visits, the buzz, the time of day," MacIvor explained.

Changing Public Opinion: Tickle bees (Miner bees).

MacIvor shared a story about an elementary school in Portland that changed public perception of bees as being dangerous when the kids noticed a large population of bees in the adjacent ball field. Rather than calling in exterminators, they called the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization that works to preserve invertebrates and their habitats. Now the bees are not only the subject of science classes at the school, but they've been named the school's official mascots, the Tickle Bees, since they don’t sting, but simply tickle. There is now a fence around bee aggregation with a sign to let people know not to disturb the bees.

What you can do to ramp up native bees.

“Bees have grocery lists,” MacIvor said.

1. They need leaves, lawns with open space, urban meadows, lots of bare open ground.
2. Mulch is not a good thing for ground nesting bees.
3. Cut stems long, and bundle them up and keep them for bees to nest in. For bees that nest in logs, bore holes that are at least 15 cm long.
4. For cavity nesting bees, you can make use of invasives like phragmites.
5. Use south facing rockery. Bees live morning sun, so it’s not just flowers.
6. We impact each other. Wherever you, live those of us who can animate our neighbourhoods can influence our neighbours.

Urban beekeeping: Don’t do this at home!

Wrapping up the evening was beekeeper, Michelle Ordyniec. Ordyniec explained how humans have created an artificial man-made environment and put bees in it, “So beekeeping involves a high amount of responsibility. There are diseases, pests, ants, wasps, skunks. The location is important,” Ordyniec pointed out the many concerns that this livestock involves.

Further more, you have to know your hive, is it going to swarm, when and should you split your hive?
“It’s not something you can sit and leave and it’s going to be okay.” Urban beekeeping involves constant monitoring inside of a beehive.  “Bees have different personalities, some are nicer, others meaner.”

This talented beekeeper said it plainly: There needs to be less sensationalizing and more realism. “Honeybees should not be the celebrities.”

What you can do:

Plant a bee friendly garden.
Plant raspberries. These plants provide nutrients and bees will nest in them.
Buy local and organic food.
Support local beekeepers.

Did you know?

  • The hoary squash bee is a specialized bee, dealing in squash. Squash flowers open up for one day, early in the morning and pollination is complete by mid morning.
  • If you see a wild bee in April, you will not see its offspring until next April.

Great Resources They Mentioned:

Managing Alternative Pollinators. A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists.
This is a free, downloadable resource. It is a first-of-its-kind, step-by-step, full-color guide for rearing and managing bumble bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and other bee species that provide pollination alternatives to the rapidly declining honey bee. Written by Eric Mader of the Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Program; Professor of Entomology Marla Spivak; and Elaine Evans, author of “Befriending Bumble Bees,” the book includes expert information on the business and biology of pollination and how-to guidance on raising the alternative bee species.

Can you help?

Check out Status of Pollination in Canada, Peter Kevan's GoFundMe project. Chapters will be on wild pollinators (bees, butterflies, beetles, flies and birds) to managed honeybees, bumblebees and leafcutting bees, explain the importance of wind pollination in Canada, provide scientifically accurate explanations of why plants, crops and wild plants, need pollination, discuss the ecology of pollination inter-relationships in Canada's hugely diverse environments  (arctic to Carolinian forests), how pollination effects the national economy, what policy and law have to do with pollination, what the future may hold for pollination, food and fibre production and environmental sustainability, and how the public is now contributing.  Everything you want to know about pollination!