N.b Image by David Dewitt (See here for more information)
The UN conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 raised awareness of the negative effects of industrial development on agriculture. Standardization of production systems damages the genetic heritage of a number of species. One of the most endangered species is the dark bee (Apis mellifera) which plays a paramount role in biosphere enrichment and conservation. Whilst other sectors are striving to preserve their genetic resources, some beekeepers seem to be unconscious about the potential danger to bees.
What role do bees play in our lives?
The welfare of bees is directly related to ours. Flowers require pollination. This is the process by which insects, including bees, transport pollen grains from stamens (the male part of the flower) to pistil (the female part of another flower) allowing for fecundation.
The food diversity we have is the result of this pollination process. 30% of human nutrition directly depends on pollinating insects: fruit farming and vegetable oil production are both examples. Bees have other crucial roles for both the economy and global ecology. The value of their service is estimated at more than 150 billion dollars per year. Also, they contribute to conserve flora and wildlife which directly affects water quality, soil stability and fertility and climate regulation, among other things.
Unfortunately, the bee population is diminishing all over the world. In some regions, they have completely disappeared. This phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder and the reasons behind it are still not clear. The bees suddenly abandon the hive without leaving track, and no dead ones are found nearby.
Preserving bees as an insurance for the future
It took thousands of years for bees to evolve. This amazing job can’t be repeated: once an indigenous bee goes extinct, it is gone for good. The effects of such an event are nothing but catastrophic given that bees perform 80% of pollination around the world.
Exploiting biological diversity seems to be the working basis for making the future of bees brighter. The Buckfast bee is a demonstrative example: its existence is directly related to the rational use of bees’ biodiversity by Brother ADAM and his successors. This man dedicated his lifetime to developing a new honey bee that combines all the qualities that suit mankind through genetic selection. His aim was to end up with a bee that produces maximum crop with minimum effort from the beekeeper. Today, the Buckfast bee is used all over the world thanks to his efforts.
However, the selection work is far from over. In fact, bees biodiversity is a real mine of unexploited characteristics. American researchers are still trying to find ways to strengthen indigenous bees. They undertook a prospecting mission in the UK hoping to bring back strains of the British dark bee that are known for being more resistant to the Varroa destructor.
But for researchers, finding solutions to current problems is not enough. They strive to use biodiversity as a way of protecting bees against future issues. While this may seem like engaging in a sort of “scientific dreams” that are unrelated to today’s endeavors, scientists’ logic is simple: the research may not be relevant for now, but the genetic originality it brings will one day be a major asset in guaranteeing a brilliant future to apiculture.
How do we participate in bee conservation?
Everybody can participate in conservation efforts, not only scientists. Of course not via complicated scientific methods, but rather some simple daily life gestures. Here are some of many things one can do:
Have your own bee colony
Beekeeping is an exciting activity. If you have a backyard and some free time, you can benefit from quality honey, wax, and royal jelly while performing a civic, environmentally friendly act. Even if this is your first beekeeping experience, this beekeeping guide for beginners will be of great help.
Ban artificial fertilizers and herbicides
Studies show that pesticides are among the probable causes of mass bee disappearance. When they are subjected to specific doses of pesticides, bees develop modifications to some of their brain enzymes. These modifications cause major impacts on the insects’ behavior: flying difficulties, communication problems, disorientation…Etc.
Try to have in your balcony or terrace some melliferous flowers that bees prefer. If you have a backyard, consider planting thyme, mint, hyacinth or any kind of wild flowers.
Help bees build their shelters
Some solitary bees disappear because they don’t find a suitable place to make their nest and put their eggs. To help them, you can help them make shelters using small wood logs and empty plant stems. Hang the piece of wood in your balcony or in your backyard. Make holes of different diameters and cover it with a plank to protect it against water. If you are not much of a handy man or woman, you can find good “insect hotels” in all garden centers.
Consume more honey
This is straightforward. If honey consumption diminishes, the number of beekeepers and bee swarms will as well.
By Marvin Delany, veterinary medicine student and author at FarmingStyle.com