About Tara: Ever since I was a child I've been fascinated with bees. My father used to bring home wild honey comb from his hunting trips and for most of my life there has been a bee hive residing in a dead tree in my garden, which I would spend countless hours watching as a child and proudly showing anyone who wasn't afraid of being stung (not many people shared my enthusiasm). Like many people, however, my head was in the honey bee clouds until I started researching this article. I knew there were other bees out there but I thought that honey bees were, well, the bee's knees. While I still love honey bees (my middle name even means honey bee so I'm pretty sure I have to) I have a new found respect and gratitude for all the work native bees do everywhere, especially now as an intern for YUF CSA, because really they make it all possible.
While the honey bee may reign supreme in the pollinator world in terms of popularity, it is but one of 200 species which can be found in Toronto and only one of 800 that can be found throughout Canada. Even then the honey bee is a welcome visitor having been brought over during European settlement. The huge variety of bees, here and around the world, contributes to 1/3 of all crop pollination, a service valued at over $ 1 billion in Canada alone.
As important as honey bees are, native bees are better suited for pollinating local plants and crops. This is because native bees have evolved alongside native plants and often have specific adaptations that make pollen collection easier for them than for the introduced honey bee. For example, 250 Orchard Mason bees can pollinate 1 acre of apple trees in the time it would take 20,000 honey bees to pollinate the same area! On top of that, native bees are busier bees in general as they are more inclined to work in cold or wet weather conditions where as honey bees tend to sulk inside their hives if the weather is bad.
The diversity of native bees, in Canada, has many benefits. For example, the bees tend to specialize in collecting pollen or nectar from fewer species and therefore will visit and pollinate more flowers than less picky generalist bees. Unlike the honey bee, which is a part of a greater hive and social system, native bees tend to be solitary dwellers, making their own nests and tending their own offspring. The benefit of this is that solitary bees are less aggressive because they don’t have a hive to protect. Unlike the honey bee, which will become aggressive if they feel the hive is threatened.
Similar to the way people value a diversity of crop species, the variety of native bees is valuable in much the same way. With a greater genetic variety native bees are more likely to resist disease and environmental change. This is something which honey bees have less fortunate with.
Like honey bees however, native bees also face an uncertain future. This comes mostly in the form of habitat loss from urban development and pesticide use. While urban centers provide an array of flowers that often rival those found in rural areas, increasingly they are ornamental and are non-native species that provide little benefits to pollinating insects. Ornamental flowers are bred to be big and showy and as a result loose much of their pollen and nectar producing abilities. Along with increasingly vast expanses of grass lawns, the urban garden is increasingly becoming a food desert to bees.
So what can we do to help native bee populations? Like other environmental movements it can start right in your own home. It can start simply with planting native flowers and shrubs in your own yard or maybe even get your local parks involved! Not only will native plants provide bees with more pollen and nectar but they will help you as a gardener as well. Native plants are more resistant to disease and pests than ornamental exotics because they have evolved alongside these pests. They are also more adapted to the local climate and require less maintenance on your part. Other simple things you can do at home to make your yard more bee friendly is to provide water sources and suitable habitat spaces. It can be as easy as setting up shallow pans of water, leaving some ground bare so that borrowing bees, such as mining bees, can make their nests or building you own bee boxes!
Want to learn more about Native bees? Here are some interesting links that will help you learn more about these helpful and busy pollinators.
Some Info About Native Canadian Bees
A guide to Creating a Bee Friendly GardenA guide to building your own Bee Condo
what-we-do/habitat/gardening- for-wildlife/attracting- wildlife/insects/bees-and- other-pollinators.html
Is your garden bee friendly?
Photo of honey bee used under Creative Commons from Rainer Hungershausen (Mamboman1/flickr)
Photo of solitary bee nesting box used under Creative Commons from jon hayes (jon.hayes/flickr)
Photo of native plant garden used under Creative Commons from Bill Barber (bill barber/flickr)