As it turns out, many Canadians know very little about bees, according to researchers at York. Since so many plant species in the ecosystem depend on native local bees for pollination, experts think it is a good idea to expand the Canadian public’s knowledge of bees. This would also help support conservation projects and grant legal protections to strengthen the system.
According to Dr. Sheila Colla, who is an expert on bees and endangered species, these pollinators are critical to ecosystems sustainability.
Primary research was conducted at their lab, and the study which complied data from a poll on 2,000 Canadians, revealed some prominent misperceptions.
There are about 860 wild bee species in the country, and the status of most of them is unknown. Regarding the bumblebees, which are the most well-known, one in every four species are at risk of extinction.
In this 4:28-minute video by CBC Life the Ontario Bee Rescue Team shares some insights about bees:
Here is an example of the false beliefs mentioned above. About half the people surveyed think honeybees are native wild Canadian bees. About one in four respondents believe all bees sting. The truth is that honeybees are mostly domesticated and were originally brought over from Europe. Many of Canada’s 860+ wild bee species do not sting.
While this seems like a harmless misconception, experts believe this points to the need for greater knowledge about wild bees and the serious issues they face in Canada. The Canadian public may also be interested in saving the wrong bees based on misassumptions.
Dr. Colla says that the media is filled with misinformation when addressing bee decline, and tends to focus on the non-native honey bees instead of the many species of native bees.
Genevieve Rowe, lead biologist for Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Native Pollinator Initiative (NPI) says wild and native bees need the human focus on how to save them. She does not believe the European honeybee will go extinct but says Canada should be more worried about conserving the other 850+ species of bees about which little is known concerning their status and health. These are the key pollinators in the natural and even in many agricultural systems.
Dr. Laurence Packer, a biology and environmental studies teacher at York, says wild bees face threats like habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, pathogens, fragmentation, loss of wildflowers, and a lack of human understanding. Some are even thought to be wasps or flies.
Some Canadian students believe that bee conservation has declined in public popularity. ‘Save the bees’ was a trending topic a couple of years ago, but not much is said about bees and their plights these days.
Many species are threatened in Ontario, where the NPI is working to improve the status of and raise awareness about native bees. They have conducted annual bumblebee surveys and monitored large areas of the province. They also led and contributed to scientific research, both published and unpublished, that targets knowledge gaps in public understanding of bumblebee ecology at all stages of the colony lifecycle.
Nyssa van Vierssen Trip is a lead researcher on the York study. According to her, Canadians are heavily engaged in bee welfare despite a lack of knowledge on specific issues.
If school curriculums talked more about specific species in Canadian ecosystems, students would leave school with much more awareness of why they should take care of bees and other pollinators. They would also have a greater awareness of how ecosystems work.
For Canadians wishing to learn how to help native and wild bees, Dr. Colla suggests that they download the free app BumbleBeeWatch and submit photos of bumblebees in their area to help researchers locate rare species, and to learn more about the ecological needs of bees.