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03/07/2013

What, we’ve wrecked wild bees now, too?  »

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Two fun studies show that bees are having more troubles thriving in the age of modern agriculture than we thought.

First, honeybees aren’t the best crop pollinators; per a study published in Science, they get a lot of help from bumblebees and carpenter bees.

Second, wild bees hate monocultures, and don’t like to pollinate in single-crop areas.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.

The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.

"But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming," she says.

That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.

 So what does that mean for us? Will the fact that large-scale monoculture is bad for bees force us to change the way we farm? Is smaller-scale, more diverse farming financially feasible for modern farmers?

Home gardeners, at least, could learn to plant a variety of flowers and food plants together. As for commercial agriculture, we’ll see.

[Photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr]

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