Honeybees and Monocultures
Who’d ever think that bees would be safer and healthier in urban environments than they are in the countryside? Yet slowly but surely, that's what is happening. One of the main reasons is that towns and cities have a large variety of plant diversity with rich sources of nectar and pollen, which bees need. In the countryside, ever more fields are turning into monoculture operations.
Less biodiversity means bees have less autonomy over what they eat. The “crop of choice” in the area becomes the sole food source for all the local bees, but in some cases those cash crops don't provide nectar or pollen.
What is a monoculture? When just one crop is farmed in a vast field it is a monoculture. Many such fields in an area turn that area into a vast monocultural landscape.
This provides a monotonous food supply that doesn’t enthuse the honeybees to do the “waggle dance” that they do when they return to their hive, excited to tell their hive mates about a delicious and plentiful new source of honey and pollen.
While monocultures may make a lot of sense to farmers, and help cut costs for consumers, they are nevertheless causing the bee world many troubles.
Monocultures are responsible for the destruction of local biodiversity, because there was always an assortment of wild plants, grasses, bushes and possibly trees on the land before it was mowed down to make way for the single profitable crop. It was in that wild landscape that bees thrived.
Bees that are fed with pollen from a diverse range of plants have healthier immune systems. As a result, bees are better equipped to fight off pathogens and microbes that might otherwise destroy them and their larvae.
Monocultures erode the soil and leave it seriously depleted over time, but there is no sign that creating monocultures is decreasing. On the contrary, this form of farming is expanding globally.
This awesome PBS video is 4:20 minutes long and gives great insight into what bees need:
The other down side of this equation for honeybees is that they are the main pollinator that is expected to pollinate these vast single-crop fields.
It is an irony that the success of these monocultures is largely dependent on the very creatures these crops have disenfranchised.
Many studies support the fact that bees are suffering and are experiencing detrimental effects from the wide spread expansion of monocultures.
Here is a brief outline of some of the problems that honeybees face:
Eating only one source of pollen can lead to nutritional deficiencies;
Popular wind-pollinated monocultural crops like corn and wheat provide no nectar or pollen to sustain bees, so bees barely survive in such a landscape;
Some monoculture crops have such short bloom times that bees can only avail themselves of the nectar and pollen for a short time;
Bees must often be trucked in on 18-wheelers and fed artificial nectar to sustain them as they are expected to pollinate all day long every day, to the point of exhaustion and depletion.
In short, the relationship between honeybees and monocultures is currently discordant and not mutually beneficial. There has got to be a better way.
It would be awesome if these farmers could allocate land for borders or hedgerows in between their cash crop and dedicate these bits of land to wildflowers and other plant diversity, so bees and other pollinators can be nurtured. This would be a positive gesture of ecological give and take.
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