Where are the bees?
Honeybee populations seem to be on the decline. Bees are responsible for 15 percent to 30 percent of the food we eat. Cornell University studies have shown that honeybees have a role to play with every third bite of food eaten in the United States. Honeybees are important in $14 billion worth of food production.
Bee populations have dropped as much as 60 percent on the West Coast and 70 percent on the East Coast.
Research indicates that the domestic honeybee population has declined by 50 percent over the last 50 years. In a National Public Radio broadcast last year, one California beekeeper said that commercially raised bees have declined by 39 percent since the 1980s and the arrival of a mite pest. He said that every year, beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent to 40 percent of their bees either to mites or starvation.
Even locally, Carson City gardeners have called me to say they are noticing fewer and fewer bees around their gardens and are having trouble getting trees to produce fruit or vegetables to develop on their plants.
What is causing the decline in these critical pollinators? Some speculate that it has been the widespread use of pesticides, to which bees are very susceptible. Some attribute it to pathogens or parasites, as in the mite example mentioned above. In addition, the habitat fragmentation that has occurred with development has eliminated plant diversity and reduced traditional food sources. There is also competition between native and invasive species, such as the Africanized honeybee. Another problem is called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. The disorder occurs when all the hive’s residents abandon the hive, leaving only the queens and eggs.
In an April 2007 article, “Consumer Affairs” reported that British researchers think that cellular phones are contributing to the decimation of bee populations. Their research discovered that bees leave their hives when cellular phones are turned on and placed next to them. Although this seems remarkable, German research has also shown that bees behave quite differently near power lines.
Some have asked if genetically modified crops, with their capability of deterring insects, could be negatively impacting bees. Climate change also may well be a contributing factor.
As gardeners, we can help by adopting pollinator-friendly practices that support bees. Avoid pesticide use and provide them with a wide variety of flowers from early spring through autumn so they can gather pollen and nectar.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call me at 887-2252. You can “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at http://www.unce.unr.edu.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.