Climate Change and Bees

Hello Bee Friends,

I am an avid learner. I love to explore new things; it’s one of the reasons why I love to garden, to get out hiking in the mountains, to walk in the woods, and to enjoy the beautiful and showy fragrant flowers. Every day is a new experience, and observation is a great teacher.

I’ve noticed, for instance, how incredibly windy it is here lately. We normally get wind in early spring with calm mornings and evenings. This year especially, the wind begins earlier in the morning, gets wicked gusts by the afternoon, and whips the trees and flowers until late evening. Our normally dry days are even drier. We had an early snow melt and much less rain than usual. A drive out of the city shows fields upon fields of dry brown grasslands.

Is this a result of Climate Change?

I’m taking a course through Coursera called “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C warmer world must be avoided”. It’s put on by the World Bank. The statistics it presents are both fascinating and discouraging.  Is the world really warming? The Canadian Government did a study on the national average temperatures and precipitation and found that “The national average temperature for the year 2012 was 1.9°C above baseline average” [1]. Right now, our Canadian Minister of Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, is in Berlin from May 17 to 20, 2015 to attend the informal G7 Climate Ministers’ meeting as well as the Petersberg Climate Dialogue. One of the actions Canada plans is to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

As a backyard gardener, I’m concerned about possible Climate Change because the dry weather is causing havoc with my yard. But….

What does this have to do with Bees, you ask?

A recent study by the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, suggests that a temperature increase of 1 degree C causes the male minor bees to come out of their hives nine days earlier. This is creating a disjoint between when flowers are ready for pollination, and when the pollinators are foraging. Female minor bees emerged fifteen days earlier. Instead of pollinating the orchid flowers, which had evolved to flower simultaneously with the male bees emergence from the hive, the male bees were now focusing on female bees instead. Prof Anthony Davy leading the study states: “we have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change, and that warming will widen the timeline between bees and flowers emerging. If replicated in less specific systems, this could have severe implications for crop productivity.”[2]

images

Source: Public Domain

The World Bank’s report states the world is already 0.8 degrees warmer, and that is just a global average. Each country, each region is warming up differently. For example, not only is California suffering from a four year long drought and rationing of water, but its major almond crop also relies heavily on bee pollination. It lost $445 million from 2005 to 2010 due to a loss of bees as a result of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). As you know, my bee friends, it’s not just almonds; honey bees directly or indirectly pollinate more than $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables in the US alone. [3]

Ascosphaera_apis_(Maasen_ex_Claussen)_L.S._Olive_&_Spiltoir_1324048

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_diseases_of_the_honey_bee

So few feral (wild) bees now exist that farmers “rent” hives from huge commercial outfits that drive the bees on big trucks from crop to crop. For a few weeks in February or March, 1.6 million hives [4] – or 33 billion bees [11] – from all over converge on California’s Central Valley to pollinate these almond trees.

1024px-Bee_migration_9045

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Colony_collapse_disorder#/media/ File:Bee_migration_9045.JPG

This is disruptive for bees. Their normal local variety of nectar is replaced with a monocrop. They are carried long distances away from home. Last month, a semi-truck tipped over and spilled 13.7 million bees all over the highway in Washington state. Not only were the hives destroyed or damaged from the accident, but the bees were further subjected by a layer of foam the firefighters sprayed to “kill the insects for safety”. The damaged hives and dead bees were loaded into a dump truck for removal. [5] In addition, trans-location of bees also increases risk of spreading diseases to other areas and has also been implicated in the spreading of the colony collapse disorder in domesticated hives, as well as in local wild bee populations. [9]

Evolution Mismatches

There are more than 20,000 species of bees and each type evolved to feed on local indigenous plants. We humans have domesticated bees now to perform pollination specifically to feed our ever growing population with fruits, vegetables and nuts. Since the 1930s in the UK alone, 97% of the prime wildflower grasslands that are prime pollinator habitats have been reduced.[6]  Bees who need to forage for food for most the year now find endless fields of monocultures with flowers that only bloom for a few weeks, while weeds which could sustain the bees are killed by herbicides.

Other species, besides bees, are being impacted by Climate Change. Trees, plants, birds, fish, and insects are showing synchronous mismatches due to increased temperatures and changing environments, such as:

  • Oak trees and winter moths, who’s caterpillars feed Great Tit birds.
  • Sea birds such as Puffins and the fish they eat, herrings.
  • Guillemots and Sand eels.
  • Red Admiral butterflies and Stinging Nettle.
  • Ophyrys sphegodes, a type of Orchid, and the solitary miner bee (Andrena nigroaenea). [6]

Bees need honey

According to Wayne Esaias from NASA, who is also a backyard beekeeper [7], there is a reason why bees make honey. It’s not so that humans have sweet things to eat. The bees eat lots of honey so they can tense their muscles and generate heat to keep the queen and her egg larvae at 93 degrees F (about 34 C). This is essential for bee hive reproduction. If the temperature is too high or too low, the larvae will not develop into adult bees in the three weeks it takes them to mature. They will die. If bees are not able to store enough honey over the winter, they will not have the high energy food they need to eat to generate the heat to incubate the eggs, and will not have enough honey to feed the larvae when they hatch. No flowers means no honey for the bees [7]. No honey means no young bees.

Parasites

Increasing temperatures caused by Climate Change also affect the spread of bee viruses. This is the leading theory on Colony Collapse Disorder. Insects that normally would be killed by cold temperatures instead thrive due to the warmer climate. We see this in the widespread effect the Pine Beetles have had with the deforestation of Pine Trees. And we are seeing this now with Bees.

Two types of mites: Verroa Destructor and Nosea Apis/Ceranae thrive in warmer climates, and are thought to cause bee colony collapses. This is supported by a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B [3].

It all seems very discouraging. But many, many industries, organizations and people are working hard at finding some answers.

Industrial Solutions

These are some of the solutions that industry or research have come up with to help solve the loss of bees:

1. Freeze honeycombs.

According to the University of East Anglia, freezing honeycombs can kill off the mite Nosema ceranae. The study doesn’t say what effect this would have on the bees. I’m assuming the bees would freeze too. 😦

2. Create mechanical bees.

Harvard University’s solution is to create “drone” bees; mechanical robot bees that will pollinate the flowers by programming certain colors of flowers into their chips. [12]  This doesn’t seem to help with “real” bee problems though.

3. Create transgenic bees.

Monsanto wants to insert a specific gene using an RNAi (RNA interference) strand directly into the bees genome. [4] The RNAi technology is called Remebee (TM) and although it does no harm to the bee larvae, when consumed by a Varroa mite it sets off a self-destruct DNA trigger. The RNAi technology only works when it is aligned to match the targeted RNA, and since scientists have sequenced the genomes of the honey bee and Varroa mite they have identified exactly where they can apply genetic interference to kill the latter without impacting the former.” [10]. Theoretically, this RNAi strand will become systemic in the bee, and when the mite bites the bee, the RNAi will be sucked up along with the bee’s blood and kill the mite. According to Monsanto’s study, “there is no residual RNAi in bees or honey” (although I’m not sure I entirely believe this). 😦

4. Let nature decide

Some proponents think that evolution will take care of the problem. They assert that bees are naturally adapting creatures, and will eventually develop resistance to withstand adversities such as 1) temperature increases, 2) parasites and viruses, 3) loss of habitat, 4) loss of vital food (over-consumption by humans of honey, bee pollen, and bee wax), and 5) pesticide toxicity.

I’m not so sure any of these solutions will solve the problem for the bees themselves. It may only solve the problem of loss of crops for humans.

It sounds like an insurmountable problem left to big industry. I’m sometimes completely overwhelmed thinking about the effects of global warming. But there are many little things we can all do individually to help.

So… What can all of us little, individual ‘backyard gardeners’ do?

A. We can make a more hospitable place for bees to thrive:

1. Let lawns grow and flower.

  • Plant bulbs like crocuses, bluebells, daffodils and snowdrops
  • Let natural clover flourish in patches
  • Plant low-growing thyme, it stays green all year and has beautiful tiny purple flowers
  • Replace some grass with wildflowers such as: Field Scabious, Teasel, Meadow Cranesbill, Cowslip, Selfheal, Greater & Lesser Knapweed, Red Campion, Betony, Meadow Buttercup, Ox Eye Daisy, Musk Mallow
  • Check out: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/lawns.html for more suggestions.

2. Plant pollinator-friendly trees

  • Early blooming varieties such as: blueberries, cotoneaster, crabapple, and cranberry, willow and heather are all good for bees

3. Leave piles of logs to create nesting sites

  • these are excellent places for wild bees to nest

4. Eliminate the use of ALL pesticides

5. Eliminate the use of ALL herbicides (unless they are certified as bee-friendly)

B. We can help to reduce the effect of increased temperature due to Climate Change:

6. Reduce carbon emissions (drive less, walk more).

7. Get more informed on what Climate Change is, and how it will affect our Earth and the millions of species that co-habit here with us. Find out what your government is doing. Find out what your local businesses are doing to reduce their carbon footprints. Ask questions.

8. Ask your city mayor how and where you could plant ‘wild’ garden places in little used parks and/or in unused land owned by the City. Every tree planted will not only help the bees but help reduce greenhouse gasses and climate change.

  • “Every wildflower kept alive will help the honey bees survive.” (me)

9. Check out The World Bank’s course “Turn Down the Heat” on Coursera (I highly recommend all courses on Coursera) or check out the information available at http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange/publication/turn-down-the-heat

10. Learn of other detrimental effects of changing climates and indigenous and alien adaptations in this study [9].

Most importantly – Tell your friends. Tell your family. Especially, tell your Bee Friends. Let’s all try to: Turn Down the Heat, and “Bee The Movement” to change! … and, as always…

Bee Nice to Bees 😀

References:

[1] https://www.ec.gc.ca/adsc-cmda/default.asp?lang=En&n=77842065-1

[2] https://www.uea.ac.uk/about/media-room/press-release-archive/-/asset_publisher/a2jEGMiFHPhv/content/climate-change-causes-bees-to-fall-out-of-sync-with-flowering-plants

[3] http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10688/20141126/climate-
change-threatens-bees-even-more-evidence.htm

[4] http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/building-bees/mann-text

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/honeybees-scattered-across-u-s-highway-after-truck-tips-1.3038165

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/06/climate-change-is-disrupting-flower-pollination-research-shows

[7] http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Bees/bees3.php

[8] https://news.vice.com/article/heres-what-climate-change-could-do-to-
honey-bees

[9] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00125.x/full

[10] http://www.21stcentech.com/agriculture-update-beeologics-save-honey-bees-colony-collapse-disorder/

[11] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/migratory-beekeeping-mind-boggling-math/

[12] http://robobees.seas.harvard.edu/

Advertisements