A quick Google search or scroll through social media can reveal just how popular the mission to “Save the Bees” has become. Companies such as Whole Foods and Cheerios are even rallying behind the cause, and with good reason. Bees are responsible for every third of food we eat, and they are witnessing global population decline.
As great as the public attention is, there’s just one problem: the discussion often focuses on one species, the non-native honeybee, excluding others also facing trouble. It’s important that when saving the bees, we don’t leave our many important, native bees out in the cold.
Native bees provide irreplaceable pollination services to ecosystems, and many native plants are entirely dependent upon them as they evolved in conjunction with one another. They also help agriculture, and are especially important because they have been known to “step in” and pollinate crops when honeybees aren’t present. Interestingly, a native bee can pollinate certain crops like blueberries, cranberries, and tomatoes more effectively than a honeybee, and will work longer and in rougher weather conditions.
Native bees, too, are in decline and face serious threats including habitat loss, spread of invasive species, climate change, and pesticide-use. Recently, a growing body of science has spotlighted neonicotinoids, the most widely used class of pesticides. Even at low levels, neonicotinoids have been found to cause serious sub-lethal impacts to bees including impaired navigational ability, affects to reproduction, and weakened immune systems – leading to increased susceptibility to diseases and parasites.
Many simultaneous threats are facing native bees, and generally all of our pollinators, making preservation of the habitats they depend on tremendously important. Providing a source of nectar and pollen by planting beneficial, native plants in gardens or backyards is just one easy way anyone can help.
NJ Audubon Intern