The buzz on climate change: It’s bad for bees

Honeybee

A honeybee at dusk. (© A Davis/Flickr)

Editor’s note: August 19 is National Honeybee Day.

Did you eat an apple today or drink coffee this morning? Thank a bee.

About one out of every three bites of food is made possible by bees and other pollinators — in the United States alone, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops each year. But the world’s honeybees are in steep decline, with 10 million hives disappearing just in the past three years. Not having honey is the least of our problems.

While scientists aren’t clear on exactly what factors are behind bees’ decline, what is known is that climate change is also making life harder for bees. Here’s how:

1. Habitat loss

Climate change is causing habitat loss as bees fail to migrate to cooler areas and establish new hives. A recent study on bumblebee migrations found that bee territories have shrunk by nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe. In South Africa, CI is keeping important pollinator habitat intact and helping to ensure future food security there.

2. Shifting temperatures

As average monthly temperatures rise, flowers bloom earlier in the spring, creating a potential mismatch in seasonal timing between when flowers produce pollen and when bees are ready to feed on that pollen. Even a small mismatch of three to six days could negatively affect bees’ health, making them less likely to reproduce and less resistant to predators and parasites.

3. Disease

Honeybees are susceptible to parasites such as Varroa mites and the gut parasite Nosema ceranae, and environmental stresses may increase infections. Scientists first discovered the Nosema ceranae in the early 1990s in Asian honeybees. It has since spread to Europe and the U.S., causing shorter lifespans and colony collapse. A recent study found that lower temperatures were associated with lower prevalence of the parasite, indicating that higher temperatures as a result of climate change could result in more bees infected with Nosema ceranae.

What can you do? Experts suggest starting with the bees and other pollinators in your own backyard: Plant a pollinator-friendly garden designed to maximize blooming for most of the year. In urban areas, porch and window planters can provide important food sources for bees.

Leah Duran is a staff writer for CI.

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