Bee population threatened by land use and climate change

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Graphic by Lauren McCallum / Design Director

By Zoe Bernardi, Staff Writer

New England bee populations are quickly decreasing due to factors like climate change, pesticides and land use. According to a study done by the University of New Hampshire, more than a dozen wild bee species are decreasing in population, affecting the pollination of blueberries and apples across New England.

“The green manicured lawns are good for the homeowner but not so much for the bees,” said Joseph Staples, an entomologist and USM professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy.

He said that over-groomed lawns from mowing lawns, removing flowers and weeds contributes to the growing decline in the bee population. Land use is causing issues with bee population due to the less land available for grass and flowers. Removing flowers decreases the amount of nectar that is vital to the survival for both bees and plants.

Dandelions bloom earlier compared to other flowers. According to Staples, pesticides used to kill weeds, such as dandelions, eliminate flowers for the bees to pollinate before other flowers bloom.

Climate change threatens bumblebees, who can they survive in colder temperatures, because warming temperatures are forcing bumblebees into smaller areas to survive. Staples expressed the issue as a “tighter squeeze” for bees to thrive in. According to Portland Press Herald, bees on decline move toward higher elevations where the species may not have access to the same kinds of flowers and plants.

In New England, climate change has the largest effect on the summers and springs, according to Staples. “We have very wet springs that are followed by very dry Julys,” he said. A wet spring means that the queen bee of a hive goes out and lays eggs, but due to the dry summers there are not enough plants to pollinate or feed all the bees in a hive. This results in hives dying.

USM sociology professor Cheryl Laz keeps bees as a hobby. This will be Laz’s fifth year of keeping bees. This is the first time in two years that both of her hives survived Maine’s harsh winter. Laz said that between 40-50% of Maine hives, including backyard and commercial colonies, don’t survive the winter. She said that raised honeybees are imported from Europe or Russia.

These honeybees live in hives with about 50-60,000 other bees with one queen that is in charge of reproducing and laying eggs. Worker bees get nectar and pollination for the hive while nurse bees make sure all the bees are being fed.

Laz said that a hive can fail if the queen dies, if there is a lack of worker bees or due to mites. Mites are one of the largest threats to bees in New England and Maine, according to Laz. Mites cause diseases in a hive or make them very vulnerable to other infections and diseases.

According to Portland Press Herald, “14 species found across New England were on the decline by as much as 90%.”

A hive needs nearly one hundred pounds of honey to survive a winter. Laz said that she keeps bees less for the honey and more to make sure they can thrive and work on helping pollination and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
“Honey is a nice bonus to keeping bees,” said Laz.

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