The New Pollination Story:
Native Bee Pollinators and Their Habitat are the Key to Food, Seed and Biodiversity Security
Decline of all species of bees continues as a slow silent cumulative process that is unnoticed by most of the Canadian public. Even as our Canadian Pollination Initiative CANPOLIN scientists confirm the seriousness and urgency of the threat to future food, seed security and ecological health, it remains under the radar.
The main reasons for loss of pollinators are significant loss of habitat (nectar and pollen), bee diseases, and broad scale use of insecticides and herbicides. Mutating viruses vectored by exotic mite parasites continue to hobble honey bee health and recovery in a very major way. This is happening around the world but especially so in North America. This is greatly increasing risks to grower’s bottom lines and threatening food security. Costs to raise and haul bees and costs to produce fruit are sky rocketing as acreages of bee pollinated crops are expanding by 300%. Hence, last spring researchers and growers concluded that from now on “we can no longer rely on just one species of bee to pollinate our commercial crops. We will need all species of bees to achieve adequate crop pollination in the future” (Garabaldi et al 2013). These findings launched a dramatic shift in pollination strategy around the world from a multi decade history of relying on honey bees alone to focusing on the care of native bees living over the whole landscape.
Thus, BC’s native bees have quickly become an extremely valuable asset. We have 450 species of native bees, Canada’s hot spot with two hundred living on the Island. Most species are solitary ground nesters, so do not live in hives but it is these wild bees that have provided pollination services for human and wildlife food plants for 10,000’s of years. They are superbly adapted to do this, much better than honey bees and they are not inclined to sting. To have insured pollination services for food, seed and biodiversity security, we need to change policy and planning to protect and greatly enhance native bee habitat wherever we produce food and want to keep natural lands healthy. We must become a bee friendly Cowichan. This requires refitting our urban and rural landscape to keep ALL our bees. There is new technology to do this and it will take from one to three decades to install the landscapes we need to keep all our bees for sustainable pollination.
There is good reason to do this on Vancouver Island. A decade of research confirms that when around 30 percent of the land within three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) of a field is in
natural habitat, native bees can provide full pollination. This is especially so in fragmented urban and rural farming landscapes where field sizes are from 10 to 20 acres or less and
surrounded by natural areas (Mader 2010).” It relates to the limited foraging distance of our many smaller species of native bees. Google Earth imagery confirms that the above lay
of the land is exactly the situation of farmland on Vancouver Island. This means that we have potentially the biggest sustainable pollination insurance policy ever. Most native bee
habitat is on farmland and wild lands so we need to keep and expand farmland, not develop it.
Pollinator decline also impacts native plant communities expressed as pollination deficit, reduced seed set and gene flow compromising ecological health. So it is important to continue to protect all existing wild lands. The resulting multispecies plan for sustainable pollination is also smart climate change planning. Bee diversity stabilizes pollination through time. The more species in an area, the more likely there will be a species that can tolerate variable climate conditions, like a cold and wet spring. When bee diversity is high, even if there is one species that is extirpated by disease, parasites, or pesticides, other species may continue to thrive and pollinate.” (Park, M. et al 2012).
Einstein advises that, “the thinking and doing that got us into this, is not the thinking and doing that will get us out”. Sadly, because of current Canadian economic and political priorities, there are no science and extension personnel to work with land managers to help them power up habitat for native bee pollinators and honey bees as there are in other countries. Nevertheless, since a timely proactive response to managing pollinator decline in the Cowichan is essential, a local pollinator conservation team has emerged. The Cowichan Land Trust in partnership with Plan Bee Now and the Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation with the support of the Canadian Pollination Initiative, has been successful in acquiring funding from the Vancouver Foundation to begin, on a very limited budget, initiating community pollinator conservation education and habitat restoration projects here in the Cowichan over the next year. The Xerces Society has granted them access to their complete education and extension resources and restoration guidelines available at upcoming training workshops. Proper landscape changes will require significant funding. ‘Pollination’ is not a matter of National Security in Canada as it is in the States where millions of dollars are invested to train farmers and extension personnel and provide seed and plants to install and restore native bee and honey bee friendly landscapes.
Giving bumble bees, orchard mason bees, other native bees and our immune depressed honey bees, a greatly increased area and diversity of food plants is the most powerful action to save our island bees. The main reason bees are in decline is that we have taken their food away. It’s that simple. Nectar and pollen powers their reproductive and immune systems. If they don’t get it, bees get sick and they can’t reproduce and help reproduce the plants we need to keep our ecosystems healthy. Climate change exacerbates the impact of food scarcity on bees by reducing the number of flying days to mate, find nesting sites and to forage for nectar and pollen.
To bring back the bees we need to establish a very significant acreage of networked habitat to provide realistic quantities of nectar and pollen for native pollinators and to restore the biodiversity necessary for their qualitative nutritional requirements pollinators for sustained enhanced immune response to current and future environmental stressors. Following pollinator habitat installation guidelines developed by the US Department of Agricutlure (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Xerces Society locally adapted using Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) resources and advice we will be able to manage bee
It is time to learn the thinking and doing to keep our Cowichan bees for future food seed and biodiversity security. Consider taking a half day Planning for Pollinators workshop
offered through the Cowichan Land Trust this season. It will be the same quality workshop presented by Xerces Staff taken by across the USA by thousands of farmers, landscapers
and gardeners, landscape architects, professionals in land and resource planning and policy, ecorestoration, agriculture, horticulture, regional and municipal administrative
For more information call the Cowichan Land Trust today.
250 746-0227 .
Ted Leishner, B.Sc.
Plan Bee Now!, Duncan