Quarantine is Tough on Humans but Bees are Thriving!

Society » ENVIRONMENT | May 14, 2020, Thursday // 23:38
Bulgaria: Quarantine is Tough on Humans but Bees are Thriving! pexels.com

While people have been confined to their homes this spring, wildlife has faced less human disturbance, traffic and polluting fumes. In Israel, wild boar are venturing further into the city of Haifa than before, while dolphins are increasingly braving the Bosphorus, the Turkish narrows that normally serves as a busy shipping route.

Bee populations are rapidly declining around the world due to habitat loss, pollution and the use of pesticides, among other factors.

“These creatures are vital to what we eat and what our countryside looks like,” says Gill Perkins, chief executive of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. “They provide a whole ecosystem service.”

A world without bees would look very different and change our lives enormously. Bees are the world’s most important pollinators, fertilising a third of the food we eat and 80% of flowering plants. Bees and other pollinating insects have a global economic value of around £120bn ($150bn) and contribute around £690m ($850m) to the UK economy every year, according to a study by the University of Reading.

One of the biggest environmental impacts of the global shutdown has been the significant reduction in air pollution.

Less fumes from cars on the road makes it easier for bees to forage, as air pollution substantially reduces the strength and longevity of floral scents, according to a 2016 study. Pollutants break down scent molecules emitted by plants, making it harder for bees to detect food. This means they often end up flying further to find food and bring it back to their nests. Ozone concentrations of 60 parts per billion, which the US Environmental Protection Agency classes as “low”, was enough to cause chemical changes that confused bees and prevented them from foraging efficiently, the study found.

The number of bee deaths is likely to fall as car journeys decrease during lockdown, Brown notes. A 2015 study by Canadian researchers estimated that 24 billion bees and wasps are killed by vehicles on roads across North America every year.Brown suggests that councils may now be discovering both the financial and environmental benefits of not cutting back verges during lockdown, and could continue the practice once restrictions are lifted.

While things could temporarily be looking up for the wild bee, travel restrictions have hampered conservationists’ efforts to gather data on how they are doing. Typically, large insect surveys are carried out by scientists every spring. But the UK’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust has suspended its BeeWalks, monthly surveys by volunteers to count the number of bumblebees across the country.

“It is not an essential journey so we have asked people to not do those walks. We have not been able to do the data collection,” says Perkins.

Instead, ecologists and conservation groups have called on the wider public to help them gather scientific data during this time.

“Citizen science” is vital while official surveys are suspended, according to ecologist Claire Carvell who runs the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.

So as well as giving wild bees themselves a temporary respite, bee specialists are hopeful that increased awareness and engagement with bees could be a boon for conservation. But, like with all the other environmental changes we’re seeing now, any long-term benefits for bees would depend on these changes being carried forward as lockdowns lift. For some, like leaving verges wild, the change may not be so hard to maintain. For others, like keeping traffic volumes low, the changes would need to be more systemic.

One change that Perkins anticipates carrying forward, though, is people’s reconnection with nature. “They are beginning to realise how their mental health and wellbeing is supported by nature – particularly by bumblebees, which are so iconic and beautiful and buzzy,” she says. “I hope that remains after lockdown.”/bbc.com

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