World Bee Day is often an opportunity to celebrate the hard work bees do to pollinate our plants and keep our ecosystems healthy – but this year experts say it’s also an opportunity to sound the alarm about the dangers they face, especially after more than two years of COVID-19.
“I’m not sure exactly how the pandemic helped native bees, but honeybees certainly didn’t,” said Amro Zayed, a biology professor and director of the Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Center in Toronto’s York. University.
These vital insects play a central role in agriculture. In fact, more than a third of the food we eat depends on pollination by bees, either directly or indirectly. But according to experts like Zayed, not only are they facing a range of challenges, including pesticides, climate change and habitat loss, but the pandemic has also damaged bee populations.
He says public health measures designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have also restricted honeybee imports and the hiring of migrant workers on whom farms depend. He says an increase in construction projects during the pandemic has taken away more of the bee’s habitat.
Zayed also says that an estimated 50 to 90 percent of bee colonies have been lost this year due to a harsh winter alone.
Despite this, he says he is hopeful for the future, as awareness of the problem is more widespread than ever.
“I think the next step is to kind of step up that support and actually create better habitats in Ontario, and support legislation that protects bees from pesticides and other stressors.”
How to save the bees?
Launched in 2020, the Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Center has conducted research, as well as education, outreach and policy development.
Some projects include research on bee colonies to find out how the insects respond to problems such as viruses and poor nutrition, how to breed at-risk bees to maintain populations, and a program called Bumble Bee watcha compilation and analysis of photos of bumblebees submitted by citizens – intended to help researchers monitor and conserve bee populations.
To help save the bees, Zayed says people can do things like plant native plants and flowers or “pollinator gardens” on the land they occupy, participate in programs like the Bumble Bee Watch, and try to support legislation that promotes biodiversity, environmental protection, and greater transparency about the chemicals used on public land.
Carolyn Davies, the center’s coordinator, says all of these projects are exciting to watch and be a part of, no matter how daunting the end goal of saving the bees sometimes seems.
“We’ve become this source of knowledge, this source of connection about bees and how bees are important, how we study bees and all the different ways we do that, and that’s really inspiring.”