If you’re a regular person, you probably think of bees as those fluffy flying insects that also make honey. Well, that isn’t wrong, but it also only describes the honey-bee. Ironically, although this bee is featured in the thumbnail of pretty much every article about the “bee extinction,” honey bees are not endangered.
The bees we need to worry about are the approximately 4,000 species of wild bees. About half of wild bee species have dissapeared from the U.S. midwest during the last century, and this is frighteningly not just a trend with bees. “The bees” are in danger, but it’s still not the honey bees that are specifically in trouble.
The fact is that we need pollinators, and even honey-bees, for many of the foods we eat. What isn’t a fact is the exact cause of the bee extinction, but we have a few clues. Many of the problems driving the bee crisis are the same issues driving the extinction of thousands of other species.
Bees, and other pollinators, need a varied diet to stay healthy. Eating the pollen of different species of plants is healthier than if pollinators are simply fed on a monoculture, which is the reason urban bees can seem healthier than their agricultural brethren. The ever increasing dominance of individual species of plants in monocultures, exagerated by the use of total herbicides, has left the bees weak and unable to defend against parasites.
Another reason for the bee crisis is habitat loss, fueled both by industry and changing climate and environmental conditions, which has led to fewer thriving natural communities able to support bees and other pollinators. With fewer ecosystems in natural harmony (meaning high diversity and varied niches), existing ecosystems are weakened and more likely to collapse when faced with otherwise normal stressors.
But, we aren’t just observers: we can interact and help stabilize the natural systems we live in. We can plant various plants, move away from turf grass and towards crops that are able to give back to the soil, and we can provide water for our flying friends on hot days. Above all, though, we should do our best to preserve and enrichen natural communities both personally and politically.