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Bee Conservation in the Southeast

by Dr. Keith S. Delaplane Professor, Dept. Entomology, University of Georgia

Why Conserve Bees?

Bees visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar as food, and as they do this they transfer pollen from flower to flower in a process called pollination. Pollination helps seeds and fruits to develop. Many row crops and garden crops require bee pollination. Good pollination makes higher yields, larger fruit, faster ripening fruit, and better tasting fruit.

When most people think of bees they are thinking about the familiar honey bee, Apis mellifera. This remarkable insect is the source for honey, beeswax, and a variety of other health and nutritional products. As important as these products are, their value pales in comparison to the value of honey bees as crop pollinators. Honey bees are responsible for $2-9 billion added value to American food production annually [i], [ii]. They can live in colonies managed by beekeepers, and they can live as wild colonies in nature. Both managed and wild honey bees are valuable pollinators.

American crop growers and home gardeners are concerned about declining numbers of wild honey bees. There is evidence for this decline from scientific surveys [iii], [iv]. Wild honey bees are dying because of two exotic parasites that were introduced into North America in the 1980sCthe tracheal mite and varroa mite. Managed honey bees survive reasonably well because they are routinely treated with miticides to control these parasites. However, treatment is expensive and even treated bees sometimes die. The situation is worse for wild honey bees because they are never treated.

Non-honey bees are also threatened. These include wild bumble bees and solitary bees that nest in thick grass, soil, wood, or tunnels in wood. These different types, or species, of bees are easily overlooked because they are rarely kept in hives, do not make surplus honey, and do not form large colonies. Their nesting sites and food plants are frequently destroyed by human activities.

As bees of all kinds decline, that leaves behind a pollination vacuum. And less pollination means lower food quality and higher food prices. Thus, large bee populations are in everyone's best interest. Anyone who grows or uses plant products is a stakeholder in bee conservation.

The goal is to increase the number of bees foraging and nesting on one's property which will lead to improved pollination of row crops or garden crops. A healthy bee population needs long-lasting nesting sites and plants that produce nectar and pollen during bee nesting season. These facts are the foundation of any bee conservation program.

Save the Bees, Please!

Honey bees are primarily responsible for pollinating nearly one third of all the food crops we eat. Over the past several years, the number of honey bee colonies has declined from approximately 5.5 million to less than 2.4 million colonies and every year the numbers continue to decline. Research is required to help identify factors responsible the decline and to find environmentally-friendly solutions to eliminate pests like the small hive beetle and varroa mites that are responsible for destroying many South Carolina and southeastern hives.

You can help save the bees!

Follow this link if you would like to learn more about the beekeeping program at Clemson University.

Please Limit Pesticide Use & Never Use Sevin Dust.

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