Bee Habitat Loss
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One of the driving factors of population decline in bees is habitat loss. With approximately 4,000 native species of bees found across North America, they occupy ecosystems from grasslands to forests, deserts to tropical regions. Each species of bee relies on its unique ecosystem to provide its nutrition, nesting and overwintering grounds, and habitat for reproduction. The flowering plants found in bees’ environment make their natural habitats crucial to survival.
But human activities are contributing to bees’ habitat destruction and consequently their decline. Climate change is exacerbating the impacts even further. Since bees are a keystone species that are vital for many ecosystems, their declining populations affect humans and wildlife, too.
Why are bees losing their habitats?
There are several key drivers of habitat loss for bees. Each of the reasons listed below is intensified by human activities and development, leaving the bees struggling to find places to live, eat, and reproduce.
Agriculture and intensive farming
As the increase in large-scale agriculture ramps up, the expansion of intensive agricultural practices has utilized more land to grow crops. Natural bee habitats like grasslands and prairies are being destroyed and plowed to make room for farming and other agricultural industries. This land use change has taken away the resources that bees need for nesting, overwintering, and foraging.
Not only is land use change affecting bees, but so is the widespread use of dangerous pesticides in agriculture. These harmful chemicals can disrupt bees’ navigational abilities, unsettle their gut health, make them more susceptible to disease, and even kill them outright. The same agricultural pesticides used to grow food are making their way into our bodies, too. Many commonly used pesticides are linked to cancer and disease in humans.
Urban areas are continuing to expand into larger geographical boundaries, and more natural environments are being destroyed to make space. The development of these areas has adverse impacts on bees, taking away vast swaths of their habitat and displacing them from their homes.
As our climate changes, previously suitable habitats for bees can no longer sustain their survival. Increased natural disasters and deforestation due to climate change are destroying some habitats, while others have become unlivable as a result of changing temperatures.
Consequences of habitat destruction
Habitat destruction can lead to several stressors for bees. The consequences of it include:
Loss of food source
Bees rely on their habitats to find adequate nutrition, which they get from flowering plants in their natural ecosystems. When bees lose their habitats, they also lose their food source.
Nutritional stress can also make bees more susceptible to disease. Malnourishment makes it harder for them to fight illness in general, but certain diseases can even use up nutrition that bees can’t afford to lose, especially in a food limited environment.
Habitat destruction takes away places for bees to reproduce. If they don’t have the ability to build up their population, it’s impossible for bees to rebound from other stressors that are causing their decline.
Nesting and overwintering
Without their habitats, bees lose crucial protection for nesting and overwintering periods. This makes it harder for them to survive winters and can expose them to other dangers year-round, like predation and conflict with humans over habitats.
As humans continue to expand into bees’ habitats, it opens the door for more conflict between bees and humans. Many people fear bees or see them as pests that should be eradicated from areas near human living spaces (like backyards). This leads to people killing bees in areas that used to be their homes. But bees are facing too much stress already, and climate change is making it even worse.
How does climate change affect bees?
Climate change can have devastating impacts for bees. Higher rates of natural disasters and increased extreme weather events are just a few consequences of climate change that can have implications for bee habitats.
Rising temperatures as a result of climate change can make habitats too hot for some bee species to survive. In high temperatures, queen bees stop laying eggs and male bees die from heat stress. To escape the heat, bees tend to cluster outside of the hive to try to stay cool, but in increasingly prevalent extreme conditions, these efforts aren’t enough.
Unseasonable heat and cold can also have impacts on bee behavior; the times of year bees are typically active may no longer line up with the times that the plants they rely on start to blossom. That leaves bees without adequate nutrition during their active months.
As natural disasters like droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes become more severe and frequent due to climate change, more bee habitats are being destroyed altogether.
In addition to temperature stress, climate change can also worsen disease and open the door to more widespread illness among bee populations. Certain parasites thrive under higher temperatures, meaning they are more prevalent as a result of climate change. That increases the risk of bees being infected by them, especially when they are already under other environmental stresses.
Importance of bees in our ecosystem
Many bees are keystone species, meaning that they are vital to the health of their entire ecosystems. Pollinators are responsible for the growth of an abundance of flowering plants that provide nutrition to countless species in our environment. Without bees and other pollinators, those plants wouldn’t be able to grow and thrive, which would lead to food shortages for the animals that depend on them for energy. In turn, those animals would also feel the impacts among their populations. Without a reliable food source, their numbers would decline, starting a domino effect up the rest of the food chain. That means the animals that prey on plant-dependent animals would also lose their food source.
While that might seem hard to imagine, consider this scenario: A rabbit relies on bees to pollinate the foods that it eats. If there becomes a shortage of food for the rabbits, their populations will decline. But predators like hawks and foxes require rabbits and other prey to sustain themselves. And if there’s not enough rabbits to sustain them, in turn their populations will decline. As you can see, the impacts of losing pollinators could reverberate throughout the ecosystem.
Why do we need bees?
Bees pollinate several types of ecosystems throughout North America. The Sonoran Desert Bee predominantly pollinates plants in desert environments, while Eastern Bumble Bees live in the eastern forests of North America. Across the continent, bees and other pollinators promote growth of all types of trees and plants that keep our air clean and breathable.
Bees are vital to the health of our planet. So what can you do to help save them? Our pollinators program works hard day in and day out to fight for the protection of these vital keystone creatures. Protect our vital pollinators by making a tax-deductible donation to Friends of the Earth.