From compound eyes, mandibles for eating and intricate social structures, bees pollinate over one third of the US food supply each year. Sadly, the diversity of bees is declining. As consumers we demand and our actions have underlined costs. These organisms clearly define our society, yet we constantly exploit them economically. Can social change occur through dominant industries that encourage profligate behaviors? How resilient are pollinator species? What would a future be like without them?
Biologically, bees have highly organized as well as complex social communities where individuals operate in distinguished roles. Scientists have hypothesized a variety of interactive causes from habitat loss, pesticide, insecticide, fungicide and parasitization are all contributing factors to populations declining. Recent controversies have focused around colony collapse disorder, A.K.A. the mass die off of bees, which is caused by obtaining pollen via plants that have been sprayed or injected with toxic dosed chemicals. What is it going to take to get populations back? Is it too late? What’s our role?
Throughout the world, we heavily rely on these species, yet they are greatly in trouble of extinction. A vicious cycle between our anthropocentric needs and natures ability to flourish is then created. Habitats that are heavily degraded increase the demand for pollinator’s to enrich our crops, even though they cannot survive without quality nourishment. Without their populations flourishing, the availability of adequate and diverse food sources may be limited. This increases the chances of food deserts to occur and prices of food to skyrocket. Thus, bees then are a keynote species to our planet, various ecosystems and our own survival.
Vastly, however, we are creating flowerless landscaping, which adversely leads to a dysfunctional food systems. Through modern methods of growing, we have stopped planting cover crops such as clover as well as alfalfa that fix nitrogen levels within the soil and switched to methods of monocrop growth via corn and soybeans. Many plants that are considered “weeds” are actually beneficial to other life forms. In terms of livestock, clover and alfalfa is essential in providing nutrients to cows while grazing. We simply cannot disregard the importance of other species functions.
From our actions, we do not want to end up like China, whose overuse of pesticides killed pollinators and who now have to hand pollinate every crop blossom by blossom. It is inefficient and unnatural. Is this where our future is heading? Unless we constantly want to be eating corn, rice, and wheat…we need bees. Also some plants cannot reproduce sexually without a pollinating partner. They truly have fruitful symbiotic relationship. If pollinators became extinct, we would have to rely on food produced via wind pollination or food produced via hand pollinate that we did ourselves. In regions throughout the US where pollinator populations are short, beekeepers ship bees across the country so that food can be pollinated. Why hasn’t there been a bigger buzz about this?
Grassroots organizations, like Center of Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides, a non-profit, suggests instead of having a green fertilized lawn, plant native plant species that support pesticide free zones and help fostering more local pollinator stations throughout the community. Pesticides, however, are not solely used in agriculture. We also use them in our gardens and lawns. As a whole, we need to become informed, educate those around us, and act responsibly throughout the community as well as in our own backyard. Typically, we use insecticides and herbicides to reduce infestation or damage onto our food and flowers. Perhaps, we can shift our mentality to okay with having a few nibbles on our roses or having imperfect produce. To a pollinator, fertilized lawns are like deserts as they are stripped of weedy vegetation to feed on. I often wonder why the sides of highways are mowed. There is potential for these places to grow native vegetation, so why don’t they? Lawns do not have to be constantly manicured. Can we be part of the solution?
The positive, however, about these issues and concerns is that it raises awareness to the importance as well as complexities behind losing pollinators. Sadly, the loss of bees is not a new concern as it has been debated and researched for decades. Let’s though not wait until it is too late to address these issues. We cannot have the “business as usual” mindset any longer. As stewards of this planet, we have a responsibility to take care of all organisms as they take care of us.
Don’t let eco-friendly practices cease after Earth week or day is complete either. For me, everyday is Earth day and I try to make a new goal or commitment to act more sustainably and engage in serve responsibly throughout the community more. Become engaged, informed and active to preserve our bee populations by telling legislative to restrict chemicals being pumped into agriculture. You can join BEE proactive campaigns that Center of Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides is sponsoring to become thoughtfully active in these global affairs. To quote Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Kelly T. Knutson 15′ is an opinion columnist for the Concordia who focuses on environmental awareness / concerns in his entries. Originally from the upland prairies of Grand Forks, North Dakota, Kelly recently transplanted to Bemidji where he calls the conifer forests of Minnesota his home. Being ecologically literate and knowing his roots comes at high importance to Kelly. In his spare time he enjoys being immersed as well as fascinated by nature through hiking, birdwatching, mushroom foraging, camping etc. At Concordia he is involved with Sea – Student Environmental Alliance, Concordia Chapel Choir, Eco-Reps as the Coordinator, 2014 Sustainability Symposium planning committee, coordinating the 2014 HILT High Impact Leadership Trip for spring break, and a Lab TA for the Biology department.