From J. Crew to General Mills, conservation organizations are no longer the only ones concerned with saving the bees-and it has nothing to do with honey! There are over 4,000 bees species in the United States and not one is a native honey bee. So, what is all the buzz about?
All bees have a very specific role in nature; they are pollinators. Pollinators feed on the pollen and nectar of plants, and in doing so they are directly responsible for plant reproduction. As a bee feeds on plant A, it becomes dusted in layer of pollen. When this bee moves on to feed at plant B, the pollen from plant A falls off onto the flower of plant B. Other pollinator animals include butterflies, hummingbirds, flies, bats, and beetles.
Two thirds of wild plants need pollinators to reproduce, which means without pollinators ecosystems would fail. Without plants, the herbivores would have no food so the carnivores would have no food. Furthermore, without plants to help hold together the soils, the land would erode away.
But that is still not the big buzz. Pollinators are responsible for one third the global food supply. Your almonds, apples, oranges, coffee, chocolate, and many types of beans are a few examples of the crops that need to be pollinated. To really put things into perspective, take this list into your kitchen and you'll really see how much we depend on these tiny animals.
As honey bee health in the United States declines, it is also reflected in the increase of honey imports. So we can no longer produce US honey to match the US demand.
I remember growing up and chasing butterflies around my backyard, but by the time I was in college I was lucky to see more than 2 butterflies in my backyard over the entire summer recess. Pollinators are currently in a rapid decline around the world. Because of their important role in nature, their decline is not only an environmental issues but a socioeconomic issues. A risk to one third of our food supply is a big deal for consumers. This is also a risk to the food industry, including farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.
There are five main causes of pollinator decline:
A lack of forage/food
Diseases and Parasites
And all of the above resulting in an increase of competition for food.
As we continue to plant decorative, instead of native, plants in our gardens, on our lawns, and throughout our landscapes we reduce the habitat and food available for pollinators.
Despite the role of disease and pesticides, the major issue is habitat loss and forage. This is also why Cheerio's Save the Bee's campaign ultimately failed. Cheerio's sent out flower seeds to its customers, however from an ecological perspective they were potentially adding to the problem. Pollinators feed on plants native to specific areas. Cheerio's campaign was sending out nonnative seeds, which further reduces habitat and food for pollinators.
So how can we really secure our food supply and help pollinators? Plant native plant and supply habitats. Most homeowners prefer their pristine lawns, however the 4,000 native US bee species actually need wood, sticks, and earth to create their burrowed homes. Homeowners should consider creating garden islands that will give pollinators food and the habitat necessary to build their homes. Native plants are more resistant to local disease, water conditions, and temperatures. This means that by planting native, you will spend less money and time keeping your landscapes alive.