Within the past ten years, scientists have observed a sudden decline in the bee population across North America. Honey bees, bumble bees and native solitary bees are a major necessity for pollination of many fruit and vegetable crops. Although soybeans do not require bees for pollination, based on research conducted by members of United Soybean Board and the Honey Bee Health Coalition, there is evidence that soybean yield is improved by 18% when bees visit the blooms of soybean plants. The causes of the decline in bee populations are still being researched, but scientists have determined that it is not one but many factors contributing to the population decline. The most significant of these factors include pests, habitat loss, and pesticides.
The most serious pest affecting the bee population in the United States is the Varroa mite, a deadly parasite that, if not managed, can transmit fatal viruses to an entire colony of bees. Beekeepers and scientists are working to manage these pests, along with governmental (i.e. Ohio Department of Agriculture) and non-governmental groups.
Bees’ lack of access to good nutrition due to habitat loss also plays a role in their declining population. Since bees can only get food from flowers (through pollen and nectar) the absence of these plants throughout the year cause the bees to go hungry. It is important that areas have a variety of different flowers that bloom during different times of the year so the bees do not starve waiting for the flowers to bloom. Bees also require access to fresh, clean water which is not always abundant in urban areas. Additionally, as their habitats are cut down for human use, they can lack the space and resources needed to build their homes.
While pesticides can be helpful in eliminating pests, they often negatively impact bee populations as well. When bees are foraging for food, they can come in contact with pesticides which can be lethal or disorienting to the bee itself. To address this problem, farmers are encouraged to spray their pesticides at night when bees are less likely to be outside of the hive.
There are a variety of different ways people can increase a bee’s access to a good habitat and nutrition. First, they can plant pollinator-friendly plants native to their area. People can also put out fresh water for the bees. Finally, people can build “bee hotels” so that the bees have a place to live. By addressing the consequences of habitat loss, students can help improve the bees’ environment around the school. See this page for more information.