Insect-harming practices have been curbed as lockdowns and social distancing were implemented, making it a better environment for wild bees.
Wildlife has faced less human disturbance, traffic and air pollution as people are confined to their homes this spring. You can see wild boar in Israel are venturing further into the city of Haifa, while in the Bosphorus, the Turkish narrow strait that is normally a busy shipping route, are increasingly braved by dolphins.
Scientists say that we see a much-needed revival for wild bees. Habitat loss, pollution and the use of pesticides, along with other factors have all reduced the populations of bees worldwide.
“These creatures are vital to what we eat and what our countryside looks like,” says chief executive of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Gill Perkins. “They provide a whole ecosystem service.”
Our lives and the world would both be very different if not for all the hard work bees put in. In case you didn’t know, bees fertilize a third of the food we eat and 80 percent of flowers, making them the world’s most important pollinators.
According to a study by the University of Reading, bees and other pollinating insects have a value of around £120bn ($150bn) in the global economy and their hard work contributes to nearly £690m ($850m) annually to the UK economy.
The drastic reduction in air pollution is one of the biggest positive environmental impacts of the global lockdown.
According to a study published in Atmospheric Environment in 2016, bees have an easier time to forage due to less fumes from cars on the road which meant less air pollution that significantly lessens the strength and longevity of floral scents.
Bees have a hard time detecting food as pollutants break down scent molecules emitted by plants. As a result, bees would need to fly further to find food and bring it back to their nests.
Ozone concentrations of 60 parts per billion was enough to cause chemical changes to make bees confused and prevent them from foraging efficiently, even though the US Environmental Protection Agency classified this as a “low” level.
“In a world with less air pollution, bees can make shorter and more profitable ‘shopping trips’, and this may help them rear more young,” says Professor Mark Brown, professor of evolutionary ecology at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Brown notes that bees benefit from less cars on the roads in another way as well, as the death toll of bees have decreased during lockdown. Vehicles on roads kill 24 billion bees and wasps every year across North America according to a study done in 2015 by Canadian researchers.
Many road verges have not been maintained and have turned into lush habitats for bees and other insects, as UK councils are tightening their maintenance budgets due to coronavirus.
Professor Brown says “This unexpected profusion of flowers may well be another benefit for bees, with the unexpected food they provide boosting bee populations”.
Councils were called on by UK ecologists to allow verges to run wild for many years now. “Don’t mow, let it grow” is one of the campaigns being run to support this cause.
Both the financial and environmental benefits of not cutting back verges during the lockdown may now be realized by the councils, with Brown suggesting they could continue practice when lockdowns are lifted.
Even though this a good break for wild bees, the production of honey will be an uphill battle. Because of the imposed travel restrictions, commercial beekeepers and farmers whose businesses rely on bees to pollinate their crops will struggle.
According to the president of Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers, Jeff Pettis, commercial beekeepers in Canada and many European countries rely heavily on seasonal foreign workers and on importing queen bees from around the world to replenish their bee colonies.
For example, few may know many UK queen honeybees originally come from Italy. Bees were transported by air most of the time, but currently they are being driven across the continent since flights have been banned for the time being according to Pettis.
“If beekeepers can’t find the labour to produce honey, the colonies will get congested,” Pettos says. The congestion would mean the bees would split up earlier and fly away to form new colonies, making it harder to keep track of the bees.
This would disrupt the planting schedule for agricultural farmers, as bees (commercial travelling hives) are needed for crop pollination. According to the US Department of Agriculture, bees are responsible to pollinate almonds, courgettes and melons to a tune of $15bn (£12bn) per year.
Commercial traveling hives are moved to different parts of the US to pollinate different crops. However, as truck drivers are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after crossing state borders, planting schedules have gone into disarray.
The lockdowns have given bees a temporary opportunity to repopulate and build up their numbers while humans are quarantined to their homes. But like all other positive changes seen in nature now, long term benefits for bees and other insects will depend on how best these changes can be maintained post-lockdown.
22nd May 2020 16:30
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