Saving British Columbia’s Native Bees: How You Can Help?
Bees, nature’s skilled pollinators, are indispensable in maintaining the balance of ecosystems. They play a vital role in the pollination of a vast array of plants, contributing significantly to the diversity and health of ecosystems and agricultural landscapes.
Globally and especially in British Columbia, bees face threats from habitat destruction, climate change, and harmful agricultural practices. This has led to a notable decline in bee populations, raising concerns about ecological balance and food security.
In response to these threats, BC has witnessed a surge in bee conservation and bee preservation initiatives. These efforts are crucial in safeguarding these important pollinators.
The Threatened Heroes: Understanding the Significance of Bees
Bees constitute a diverse group of insects in the taxonomic order Hymenoptera, characterized by their hairy bodies, facultative sociality, and use of pollen baskets to transport food. Over 20,000 species of bees populate ecosystems across the globe, serving vital ecological functions:
- As pollinators, bees are critical for the reproduction of angiosperms, representing over 85% of all plant species. From apples to almonds, many leading crops owe their existence to bee pollination.
- By dispersing pollen, bees drive gene flow between disparate plant populations, promoting genetic diversity.
- Bees are a food source for birds, mammals, and other insects, occupying an essential rung on the food chain.
- Bees contribute to complex symbiotic relationships that underpin ecosystem stability. For example, some species exhibit buzz pollination, using wing vibrations to release pollen that benefits wild tomatoes and eggplants.
The Rich Bee Diversity of British Columbia
British Columbia is home to over 500 bee species, reflecting the ecological diversity of this Canadian province, spanning rainforests to high alpine meadows. Prominent types of bees in BC include:
Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis) – Once common, their populations have declined up to 60% due to habitat loss and disease.
Yellow-banded Bumble Bee (Bombus terricola) – Populations of this essential blueberry pollinator have declined by over 40% in Canada.
Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria) – Manageable and efficient orchard pollinators that nest in holes and cracks.
Horned Mason Bees (Osmia cornifrons) – Metallic blue pollinators introduced from Japan to boost early spring pollination.
Bee Conservation Efforts in British Columbia
In light of mounting threats, concerted efforts have emerged across BC to champion bee conservation through diverse initiatives:
Academics at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia study topics like landscape connectivity, nesting ecology, and the impacts of urbanization on bees.
Community science programs recruit volunteers to participate in surveys that track bee diversity and health across BC.
Public parks like Pacific Spirit Regional Park in Vancouver provide undisturbed refuge.
Conservation groups restore neglected urban plots into bee-friendly gardens brimming with wildflowers and native vegetation.
The City of Vancouver updated its 2020 Action Plan for Biodiversity, Conservation, and Ecosystem Protection to safeguard pollinators.
Activist coalitions like Pollinator Partnership Canada advocate for pesticide bans and bee-friendly land management.
Societies like the Native Bee Society of British Columbia promote understanding of native pollinators through school visits, social media, and public lectures.
Gardening centers provide resources to customers on choosing pollinator-friendly plants native to BC.
Challenges in Honeybee Conservation
While native bees play a crucial ecological role, managed honeybees are also vital for large-scale agriculture and face their own threats. Honeybees are susceptible to:
- Pathogens and parasites like the Varroa mite can wipe out entire colonies
- Pesticide exposure from large-scale farms
- Reduced genetic diversity and inbreeding depression in commercial operations
- Climate change impacts on flowering cycles, disrupting feeding
To support domestic honeybees, conservation efforts are needed, such as:
- Research into disease-resistant stock and treatment options
- Providing natural, pesticide-free foraging areas
- Beekeepers creating genetic repositories to boost stock diversity
- Policy changes to regulate and reduce pesticide usage
The work of honeybee advocates is complementary to native bee habitat protection. Managed honeybee populations require similar disease management and sustainable nutrition sources to thrive.
Bee-Friendly Flora: BC Native Flowers and Plants
Native flowers of BC, like the Purple Coneflower and Black-eyed Susan, provide essential nutrition for bees, supporting their health and pollination ability.
Key BC native flowers beneficial for bees include the Scarlet Gilia, Large-leaved Lupine, and Yellow Avalanche Lily. These and other flowering plants are specially adapted to BC’s climate and soil.
The Garrett’s Sidalcea, Island Blue-eyed Mary and other endemic flora and native plants of Vancouver Island are crucial for the survival and health of the island’s unique bee populations. Local flowering plants have co-evolved with resident bees over millennia.
Power to the Public: How You Can Help Bees
Every British Columbian can contribute to protecting these threatened pollinators:
In your garden:
- Plant an array of flowers that bloom from spring through fall to provide bees with continuous forage. Prioritize native species like tufted vetch, Canada goldenrod, and wild lupine suited to BC’s climate and bees.
- Avoid pesticide use, which can be lethal to foraging pollinators. Seek natural alternatives like horticultural soaps or oils.
- Construct bee hotels by drilling holes in untreated wood or allowing areas with exposed soil for ground nesters.
In your community:
- Volunteer with conservation groups like the Native Bee Society of BC on surveys, habitat restoration efforts, and public engagement.
- Urge your city councillors to adopt more green spaces, pesticide bans, and climate policies that help bees.
- Support bee-friendly farmers who minimize pesticide usage and maintain wildflower habitat.
Bees form the foundation of ecological health and agricultural prosperity in BC. Yet their future – and our own – remains imperilled without decisive action today. Every British Columbian must join the movement supporting these threatened pollinators.