Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, July 10, 2015

Agriculture Needs Bees

"We're playing with fire and we are now going to be paying some of those consequences."
"We looked at 110 years of data that showed rather precisely where each of 67 bumblebees species are found, starting in 1900. Their distribution has run up against a kind of wall. They just aren't colonizing new areas and establishing new populations fast enough to track rapid, human-cause climate change."
"We may need to contemplate this ['assisted migration'] on continental scales to help conserve these species in the future."
Jeremy Kerr, entomologist, University of Ottawa
Red-belted bumblebee lupine
A red-belted bumblebee visits a large-leaved lupine. Bumblebees are being wiped out the southern areas they once lived, but aren't expanding northward to compensate, a new Canadian-led study suggests. (Jeremy T. Kerr)

"Whenever I give a talk to a horticultural society and show them pictures of my backyard, people stand up and shout at me because it looks messy. But it's very diverse."
"[Gardens that use concrete, stones or mulch in landscaping] are terrible places for bees."
Laurence Packer, bee expert, York University
Very few plants self-pollinate. Cross-pollination is needed for trees to bear fruit, for plants of all varieties to mature with an edible product which can be harvested and used for human consumption. When bees flitter from flower to flower they carry with them pollen from one plant to another creating the required biological finalization process leading to male pollen fertilizing female pollen to produce seed, and ultimately fruit.

Wind can sometimes carry pollen and so do other insects and birds as well. But for sheer industrious functionality in pollination nothing beats bees. Pollination is a by-product of their collecting pollen to be transformed into honey which a bee colony thrives on. Nature's multi-purpose, multi-dimensional brilliance in making species interdependent upon one another achieves a balance useful and necessary for all life.

A new Canadian study published in the journal Science describes bumblebees being squeezed in "a kind of climate vise", as southern geographic areas are becoming too hot for bumblebees to thrive, but they are not being seen as moving north, which other species facing similar circumstances no longer amenable to their existence, face as well, as they begin to move north to find more climate-congenial pastures.

According to biologists and entomologists  some bumblebees are now absent from a habitat up to 300 kilometres wide in southern Europe and the southern parts of North America. While all types of bees are now facing hostile conditions brought on by parasitic mites, by pesticide exposure, deadly moulds and other issues making their lives difficult, it appears that climate change is being identified as the most serious challenge to their existence.

"Their distribution has run up against a kind of wall". says Dr. Kerr, and the research team has been unable to determine why bumblebees experience an inability or reluctance to relocate to more temperate zones where other insects like butterflies appear to have no such constraints. Anticipation that agriculture will be heavily affected and that some crops will become more difficult to grow, becoming scarcer and more costly, looms in the future.

Buff-tailed bumblebee composite flower
Researchers suggest that humans may be able to help save bumblebees by physically moving them further north. (Jeremy T. Kerr)
The contraction of the ranges for bumblebees represents "a huge loss and it has happened very quickly", within the past forty years, explains Dr. Kerr. The research team has a ray of hope that undertaking to transport colonies of bumblebees to northern areas might be undertaken in the hopes that they might adjust to their new environment. 

The anticipated scale of the deleterious effect of the absence of bumblebees as pollinators is not quite fully known: "there are still other pollinators left over" like domestic bees and butterflies, "and they may be filling what appears to be an increasing void in the places [absent of bumblebees] for the time being". 

Bee expert Laurence Packer has advice for concerned individuals: to plant flowers, however haphazardly. Native species are preferred, particularly wild roses ["a plate of food for bees", superior to domestic roses], and raspberries as well.

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