Bees and Sustainability

Bees and other pollinators are a key part of maintaining local ecosystems, helping plants to reproduce and provide fruits for other species to eat. Native bees are particularly important for certain crops in North America. Pollinating these crops is also important for farmers and local economies dependent on agriculture.

These bees face a threat in the form of neonicotinoids, compounds present in modern agricultural pesticides. Neonicotinoids disrupt the bees’ abilities to navigate and find sources of food, often leading to a solitary death. Applied at a mass scale, these pesticides have resulted in the death of millions of hives. This year, the Trump administration, in its quest to undo Obama era regulations across the board, eliminated a two year old ban on these chemicals.  This will very likely increase the rates of Colony Collapse Disorder, which was killing nearly a third of farmer’s bee populations before the ban on neonicotinoids. The use of these chemicals is unsustainable.

New pesticide formulas must be developed to protect the populations of both honeybees and native pollinators. Loosening regulations on agricultural safety and governance of the commons is counterproductive to pursuing sustainable economic growth. Continue reading “Bees and Sustainability”

The Importance of Local Pollinators

Although they are the most popular, European honeybees are unable to pollinate many species of native plants in North America. Most notably, tomatoes and eggplant can only be fertilized by native bees, including various species of bumblees. Through a process called buzz pollination, (I swear we didn’t make this up) bumblebees vibrate tomato flowers and fertilize them, something honeybees can’t generate enough energy to do. Local species are also responsible for pollinating cranberries, blueberries, pumpkins, cherries, and others.

Blue Orchard bees are released
Blue Orchard bees are commonly used by farmers in California to pollinate almonds and cherries

Building Bee Houses

Working with several students, the Arboretum Group assembled our bee houses with materials generously provided by Dr. Apple and the Arboretum. These bee houses will be placed in the Arboretum next year, generating more buzzzz and educating students on the importance of biodiversity and native species.

Members of the Arboretum Group work with students to create houses for bees
Everyone took turns drilling bore holes, assembling and decorating

Some nests were simply a block of wood with a series of deeply drilled holes, while others consisted of small plant-reed tubes held in place by a shelter, including an overhang to keep the bees dry when it rains.

A student uses a saw to cut wood for a bee house
Emilios really seemed to enjoy using the saw


New York’s Native Bees

A collection of bees from SUNY Geneseo
Bees collected from SUNY Geneseo, mostly native species

Look at Dr. Apple’s collection of Geneseo bees!

Most of these bees are native species, save for the European honeybee. Native bees come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and have unique characteristics and behaviors that set them apart from Apis Mellifera (the honeybee).

Unlike honeybees, most native bees are not social, and do not live in hives. These bees construct nests in the soil, dead vegetation, or in crevices in trees and bushes. Bees collect nectar and pollen, which they feed to their brood, rather than creating honey.  Some bees, called cuckoo bees, actually invade the nests of other species, killing the larvae and laying their own eggs, which will feed upon stocks of food and the dead larvae after they hatch. Other species known as carpenter bees drill perfectly circular holes into dead wood with their powerful jaws to create a nesting site.

The nests created by the Arboteum group will mostly house members of Family Megachilidae (third column from left). They are known as leafcutter bees, using various materials to construct nests. By providing cardboard tubes and a shelter, these bees will be attracted to the Arboretum, and will have a much easier time providing for their young.