No Bees! No Seeds! No Plants! – No Food!
The Power of BC’s Native Bees
By Ted Leischner B.Sc.
Pollinator Conservation and Habitat Restoration Specialist
With no bees, flowering plants cannot persist so there will be no seeds for sustained food production for humans and wildlife alike. “Native pollinators are the reproductive strategy of 80% of the 400,000 species of plants which form the ecological foundation for life support on this planet for all terrestrial ecosystems to provide every one of us a healthy environment to survive here on earth. Without pollinators, flowering plants cannot persist to support essential ecosystem services (food production, the water cycle, atmospheric composition regulation, soil formation and organic waste processing, climate stabilization etc.) for planetary life support.
There are many beetles, ants, birds, moths, butterflies, flies, gnats, and small mammals, such as bats also active to provide the life giving ecosystem service of the pollination of flowering plants but the most common and most effective pollinators on the planet have always been our native solitary bees working with our social bees like honeybees, which live in hives. There are approximately 20,000 species of native bees in the world which includes a number of social species like honey bees. Most of our bee pollinators do not make honey but are absolutely essential if life is to persist on this planet. They are focused and adapted for the single purpose of pollinating flowers not for honey production.
When a pollinator is removed from a plant’s world, the plant has a much-reduced or no seed set.
The absence of pollinators across ecosystems is paired with the collective simplification and potential unraveling of those systems. (From the Seattle, WA based Pollinator Pathway Project website: http://www.pollinatorpathway.com/why/ )
It is important to note that in BC for 10,000’s of years before the colonialization of the islands, and the introduction of the European honeybee, up to 450+ species of native bees pollinated 1450 species of flowering trees, shrubs, berries and herbaceous perennials like blue camas, and other bulbs which included 80% of the first people’s food plants. It was truly a biodiversity, hot spot, Super Natural BC mechanism that requires the sustained production, annually, of a huge complex native plant seed bank, to maintain the health of all our ecosystems, a seed bank currently crashing. It is critical to validate the power of this historical pollination mechanism composed of hundreds of species of solitary native bees of many sizes spread out over the whole landscape living in solitary underground burrows, solitary wood tunnel nests in snags or in pocket cavities in piles of leaves, soil and rock to assure that the flowers of all sizes of native plants would be pollinated each year and produce a seed crop. This humongous investment in genetically integrated natural capital indicates just how important ‘pollination’ really is for life to survive on this planet. Also note that each of our species of native bees is superbly adapted to live here in a very energy-efficient manner. Most adult bees doing pollinating in spring and summer perish at the end of the season leaving only their sleeping offspring underground or in protected wood tunnels or as single mated queens hibernating just below the surface of the ground. Thus native bees are very much more energy-efficient than honey bees or humankind. Also, our native bees can forage when it is cool and cloudy, many have the adaptive advantage unlike honey bees of using ‘buzz pollination’ to collect pollen efficiently from our native plants, food crops and ornamental flowers.
Watch Buzz Pollination on YouTube to see and hear what buzz pollination looks like:
This native bee behaviour especially in bumblebees and mason bees allows quick efficient collection of large about of pollen even from plants that hide it, like blueberries, tomatoes, heather, manzanita and cotoneasters and many important food and seed crops.
There is no doubt that honeybees have been a boon to food production for humankind since the beginning up time and they remain the only bee that can efficiently make honey. This was the case until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the parasitic mites began to infest hives and spread around the globe killing 100,000’s of European honeybee hives, especially in North America. We have sort of got these mites contained but they are now a fixture in our hives that have to be treated several times per year or the colony dies. The varroa mites are also vectors of serious RNA viruses now beginning to spread into the wild bee population. Honeybee health continues to be challenged as hive loss in North America is holding a pattern of 30% loss per year for mainland North America, 15% percent more than what is tolerable to sustain the economic viability of a honey and pollination business over the long-term for larger beekeepers. But it is not diseases nor pesticides that is the main cause of slow gradual bee decline of all species of our west coast island bees.
The main cause of bee decline on our Canadian west coast islands and worldwide is loss of pollinator habitat causing a dearth of nectar and pollen for ALL our bees and a loss of nesting sites for ground nesting bee pollinators.
So, essentially our bees are starving and cannot reproduce. This situation is caused by the cumulative loss of farmland and wild habitat along with the increasing rate of land development which removes life-giving habitat for all pollinators, including honey bees. It is exacerbated by the rapid spread of invasive plant species. Certainly the use of neonicotinoid insecticide and other pesticides is a major bee killer on the mainland and bee diseases are getting worse, not better.
The situation is not just about declining pollinators. As we are losing our native bees, we are also losing our native plants. Now in a world increasing its acreage of food crops by 300%, this is a serious situation referred to as the ‘pollination crisis’ which is demanding more honey bees than what we can now produce in their health stressed state. Research worldwide confirms that honeybees and mason bees cannot make up for the total pollination services required for future pollination all the crops and native plants that we need on Salt Spring Island in the decades to come especially in the context of climate change. In March of 2013 pollination researchers worldwide concluded that from here on, we need all species of bees and the habitat that they need to thrive for future pollination of our food crops and native plants. We can no longer rely on just one or two species of pollinating bees (Garibaldi et al. 2013).
But there is good news. In the quest to find alternative pollinators in the research for the Status of Pollinators in North America study in 2007, researchers worldwide verified that our native bees can do our pollination effectively to provide economical, reliable and sustainable pollination for food crops and our native plants if certain conditions are met requiring timely urban and rural landscape changes. One of conditions is proximity to wild habits and other is smaller field sizes. Most rural and urban land on the west coast islands is perfectly laid out to do a good job keeping all our bees but invasive plants need to be cleaned up and replace with plants that produce and greater variety and quantity of nectar and pollen all season long. Left on its own, it will not happen but actively investing and installing the proven new pollination story technology as they have been doing across the US and Europe, we can end bee decline and attain food, seed security and maintain a healthy natural environment to reclaim our natural heritage. But a program to save our pollinators here is not going to come from our provincial and federal governments, now hostile to natural resource management science and technology that has more than proven its worth in BC and across Canada.
The benefits of saving bees are captured when our local communities actively commits to installing this pollinator saving technology developed in the USA and UK into their land management and planning practises. It is not magic bullet, snake oil stuff. It is common sense, economical application of peer-reviewed research guiding changes to the landscape that benefit ALL the bees. It is not rocket science and it very transparent, available off the internet but is best applied using trained Canadian pollinator conservation and habitat restoration specialists to guide its application to our west coast situation. For a glimpse of this new pollination story technology visit the Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation website at www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation You will see that it is part of an integrated natural resource management program and easy and economical to do.
In 2013 Ted Leischner of Plan Bee Now! living in Duncan, BC partnered with the Cowichan Land Trust to apply for a grant to the Vancouver Foundation to bring the ‘New Pollination Story’ technology to the west coast of Canada. They received letters of support from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the researchers with the Canadian Pollination Initiative. The Cowichan Land Trust was awarded the grant and the Xerces Society granted the Cowichan Land Trust access to all of their education and extension materials and habitat restoration project guidelines to ensure the successful transfer this technology to the west coast of Canada for the benefit of all communities seeking added value to their economic well-being for decades to come. Ted is helping ALL the bees because as Albert Einstein pointed out, the thinking and doing that got us into this bee decline mess and keeps us in is not the thinking and doing that will get us out. The ‘New Pollination Story’ technology will remove the threat of bee decline to food, seed and biodiversity security because it gives back to the bees what they need to thrive: abundant nectar and pollen from diverse flowers and nesting sites to reproduce their own kind.
For more information about content and workshops please Contact Us :
Plan Bee Now!
Helping Communities Become NATIVE POLLINATOR FRIENDLY
Create your community NEW POLLINATION STORY
For sustainable food, seed and biodiversity security
- Pollinator Conservation Planning One Day Workshops
For food producers, gardeners, landscape, parks and wildlife habitat managers.
- Urban and Rural Native Pollinator Habitat Assessments
- Design Coaching for Pollinator Friendly Gardens, Farms, Parks, Roadsides, Green Roofs
- Pollinator Conservation Teaching Gardens, Nectar Trails and Pollinator Pathways
Change your landscape for reliable, economical and sustainable pollination.
Plan Bee Now! Duncan, BC
Upcoming Workshops and Projects from
- Half Day Bumblebee Conservation Workshop includes the new BB nest box technology. Likely March 2015
- Vocational college level One Day Planning for Pollinators Workshop
Equivalent to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation Training Course www.xerces.org Likely Mid-July
- 3 Day Advanced Native Bee Taxonomy Lab and Field Workshop July 24-26th, 2015
- Fundraising for local Pollinator Conservation Teaching Gardens, Pollinator Pathways and Nectar Trails.