The honey bee, or Apis mellifera, plays an important role as a pollinator in the American food system (Great Plains Nature Center). People enjoy many fruits and vegetables pollinated by honey bees; however, Americans may have to seek other pollinators if annual survival rates of honey bees do not improve. A bee hive is composed of interactions between bees of different ages each helping the colony ensure its survival. If any part of the life cycle is disrupted by parasites, fungi, toxins, malnutrition, or starvation then the colony may not be able to survive. One solution is to plant bee gardens that provide bees with the necessary resources to help them face threats.
Honey bees are not only important because they are part of a larger ecosystem, but also because they have a significant role in the human food system. Humans manipulate the relationship between bees and plants in order to produce large quantities of food. In 2009, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA), stated that
Honey bees provide essential pollination services to US fruit, vegetable and seed growers, adding $8-14 billion annually to farm income and ensuring a continuous supply of healthy and affordable foods for the consumer. About 2 million colonies are rented by growers each year to service over 90 crops. The almond crop alone requires 1.3 million colonies and is predicted to require 2.12 million by 2012 (about 95% of all colonies currently in the US). (para. 1)
Approximately 90% of commercially-grown crops and 33% of U.S. food depends on honeybees for pollination. Common bee-pollinated foods include apples, nuts, blueberries, and strawberries. This dependence on honey bees for pollination of large areas of a single crop demands colonies of migratory rental bee colonies, as referenced in the AAPA quote. The health of these traveling rental pollinators as well as the health of other honey bees is critical.
There are several things that average citizens can do to contribute to the survival of honey bees in the United States. First, homeowners can avoid using pesticides in their yards. In addition to not harming the environment that already exists, citizens can improve that environment by growing native plants which are a rich in the nutrients needed by bees. Better nutrition will strengthen the immunity of bees so that they have a greater chance of being able to withstand the variety of threats to their health.
See my next blog for information on planning a bee garden for your home or business.