Using commercial bumble bees as pollinators is putting wild bees at risk

In January, a coalition of scientists from various academic and conservation organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking the agency to take action on an unexpected threat to local ecosystems: bumble bees.

The authors urged the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to start tracking movement of commercial bees throughout the United States. Doing so is critically important, they wrote, because commercial bumble bees have been implicated in spreading pathogens to a variety of wild bee populations and driving the decline of several native bumble bee species, as well as threatening the pollination networks that keep us fed.

“As diseases have been shown to move . . . between bumble bees and honey bees . . . the potential for bumble bees to serve as disease vectors threatens a wide array of pollinating insects,” the letter concludes. “Agriculture that relies on pollination is at risk throughout North America because of unregulated trade and movement of bees.”

Here’s my look at the use of commercial bumble bees in the U.S. I wrote this piece for Civil Eats. I hope it helps shed more light on the risks that managed bees of all sorts can pose to local ecosystems and the efforts being made to address the issue.


Conservation

Collaboration key to a Western wildflower’s recovery

(E&E News) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing Bradshaw’s lomatium from the Endangered Species Act due to recovery. The plant, sometimes called Bradshaw’s desert parsley, was originally listed as endangered because of loss of habitat, but conservation efforts have since restored the species, FWS said. The plant depends on pollinators for reproduction, welcoming over 30 species of bees, flies, wasps and beetles as visitors.

Bombus terrestris invasion in Chile by region

(Twitter, Jose Montalva @josemmontalva) “Here some records of the invasive bumble bee Bombus terrestris by region in Chile. All the data was obtained through #CitizenScience @SNAbejorro #GIS. Coquimbo region the tail of the Atacama desert. Most of the records are associated to the big cities of La Serena and Coquimbo”

A year after Australia’s wildfires, extinction threatens hundreds of species

(Science News) More than 500 species may now be endangered – or extinct – due to the natural disaster. In February, more than 100 biologists convened the first of several online workshops to assess whether 234 Australian invertebrates now need to be added to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.


Economics

Economic benefits of protecting nature now outweigh those of exploiting it, global data reveal

(EurekAlert, University of Cambridge) A research team analyzed dozens of sites – from Kenya to Fiji and China to the UK – across six continents. The team calculated the monetary worth of each site’s “ecosystem services”, such as carbon storage and flood protection, as well as likely dividends from converting it for production of goods such as crops and timber.

Angelina Jolie, Guerlain and UNESCO unveil women for bees program

(WWD) The French cosmetics and skincare house Guerlain is unveiling a program, created with UNESCO and fronted by Angelina Jolie, to empower women by caring for honey bees — which the article says are “an endangered species”. The entrepreneurship program, Women for Bees, will start on June 21 and last for 30 days at the French Observatory of Apidology in France’s Provence region. There, women will be given theoretical and practical training for beekeeping. During the first two years of the program, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves to be involved include Sila in Italy; the Central Balkans, in Bulgaria, and Kafa in Ethiopia. The aim by 2025 is to have 2,500 hives built in 25 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, the restocking of 125 million bees and 50 female beekeepers trained.


Policy/Law

Pesticide limitation seen as victory in Massachusetts

(The Sun) New state regulations will limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, products that advocates for years have been pushing to restrict as a way to protect bees. A vote by the state’s Pesticide Board Subcommittee recategorized neonic pesticides as restricted-use products, removing them from retail stores and making them only available to licensed pesticide applicators, starting in July 2022.


Science

Searching for volatiles relevant to carpenter bees among the diverse scent blends of bee flowers

(Twitter, Carlos E. P. Nunes @carlos_coquinho) “I know bumblebees are fluffy. But carpenter bees are the ones who rule the world when it comes to geographic range. That’s why we decided to go for the floral chemistry associated to these heavy-weights of pollination in our recently published work

How much do flies help with pollination?

(Smithsonian Magazine) The much-maligned insect could be the key to ensuring future supplies of many of the world’s favorite foods.

Summer could last six months by 2100

(Yale E360) If emissions continue unchecked, summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100. Scientists say the shift in seasons will likely have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment, human health, and the timing of species’ activities such as breeding, feeding, and migration.


Society/Culture

Firefly tourism takes flight, sparking wonder and concern

(EurekAlert, Tufts University) In the first comprehensive review of firefly tourism, an international team of biologists reveal that an estimated 1 million people now travel each year to witness bioluminescent performances starring some two dozen firefly species around the world. But the authors also point out that while this unique, insect-based tourism can bring economic, social, and psychological benefits to local communities and tourists alike, it also threatens to extinguish some local firefly populations unless adequate protections are put in place.

#BlackInEnto student research prize

(Twitter, Butterfly Conservation @savebutterflies) “Open internationally, @BlackInEnto are giving 4 prizes of $1000 each to Black scholars at the undergraduate, and graduate student career level who seek to apply for funds to further their research in entomology.” Deadline to submit applications is March 15, 2021.

It’s time we talked about the unpopular 97% of Earth’s animal diversity

(Museum of New Zealand) A team of researchers, led by the Curator of Invertebrates for the museum, set out to investigate effective science communication practices about invertebrates, drawing on the perspectives of both scientists and members of the public. The bad news is that scientists and the public are only tangentially aligned when it comes to talking about invertebrates. The good news is that, now that we are aware of this, we can start defining the way forward.

Misinformation, polarization impeding environmental protection efforts

(ScienceDaily, University of British Columbia Okanagan campus) Researchers are sounding the alarm on a topic not often discussed in the context of conservation: misinformation. The team explain how the actions of some scientists, advocacy groups and the public are eroding efforts to conserve biodiversity.


Technology

Radar-Piezoelectric Tech Tracks Hive Mind – of Bees

(IEEE Spectrum) To better monitor his bees from afar, one casual beekeeper and experienced engineer sought to create a new, low-cost monitoring system that uses sound waves to track bee activity outside the hive, while using vibrational measurements to track activity within the hive.


One More Thing…

“So, this was weird: a bee that either had another tiny critter stuck under its abdomen (stayed there as the bee moved around the flower) or perhaps a parasite emerging from its body. Anyone got any clues on this please?” From Annie Irving @sconzani via Twitter.