By Ann Millington
DES MOINES, Iowa – Many variables contribute to pollinator loss and each must be adjusted to save them.
Varroa mites, pesticides, large expanses of monocultures, and diet all were mentioned as issues during a panel on bees at the World Food Prize on Wednesday.
“If a pollinator is found in a poor landscape where all they have to forage is on is one single crop that is not very healthy for them to eat, their entire immune system may be weakened,” said Amy Toth, assistant professor of ecology at Iowa State University.
If a pollinator is also sickened with disease or challenged with a pesticide, the chances of surviving are much smaller.
Jerry Hayes, the director of Beelogics at Monsanto calls this ‘multifactorial.’
Hayes contributes much of the honeybee decline to the Varroa mite. Miticides, sprayed into beehives to kill the parasitic mite, have side effects.
“You have collateral damage,” said Hayes. “Bee’s wax is a chemical sponge, so the bees are exposed to (miticides) 24/7,” he said.
Other pesticides are a clear danger to bee and other pollinator’s health as well.
“Problems with how we’re applying pesticides can have a non-target affect,” said Toth. “You will sometimes see really obvious pesticide kills where the bees have been exposed to large levels.” Toth described seeing large numbers of dead bees the day after dense backyard spraying. Homeowners, farmers, and parks and recreation departments can all be more responsible with pesticide use, said Toth.
More natural foraging areas with native and diverse plants, such as in backyards or un-mown highway medians, can diversify pollinator diets and boost immune systems. But the ideal bee diet is largely unknown.
“We know how to feed every animal in the Des Moines zoo,” said Hayes. “There are no nutritional complete supplemental diets to feed honeybees.”
Seventy-five percent of crops and $217 billion globally require pollination, according to the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation.
“There isn’t going to be one single thing that solves the problem,” said Toth.
Being mindful of when spraying pesticides and fungicides, and planting native and diverse plants is a local implementation to help bee populations.