Bees play an important role in the ecosystem by supporting the growth of trees, flowers and other plants that provide food and shelter for a diverse number of different species, including humans.
But bees are facing hard times, according to The Bee Conservancy. More than half of the 4,000 species native to North America are in decline, with one in four at risk of extinction.
“Bees are responsible for one in three bites of food that we eat,” said Rebecca Louie, managing director at The Bee Conservancy. “They are considered a keystone species because countless ecosystems rely on them to pollinate plants and participate in various life cycles. If we lose the precious pollinators, our food system and environment face grave threats.”
As pollinators, bees help provide homes for millions of other insects and animals, supporting the growth of woodlands and forests. Many trees could not grow without them, so if they were to all disappear, the creatures that depend on such plants would be gone, as well.
While bees’ honey production helps feed humans and critters, they are also nutrition for a variety of bird, spider and insect species. Their job as pollinators helps agricultural crops germinate, contributing to over $15 billion to the value of U.S. crop production. Without them, most almonds, apples, onions, blueberries, cucumbers and carrots would be lost.
The Bee Conservancy has been working to preserve populations by providing schools, community gardens, parks and other organization with free native bee houses. The organization has created sanctuaries for bees throughout communities across New York City, and recently brought two houses to the Cherokee Nation for its Sponsor-A-Hive program.
“This program not only creates safe haven for bees and bolsters local ecology, but offers a learning tool for local groups to engage with bees and learn about their pivotal role in our world,” said Louie.
Although a variety of organizations are working to improve bee habitats, they can’t do it alone. There are easy steps Oklahomans can take to support local been populations. First off, Louie said, humans should curb the use of chemical pesticides, which are harmful to the insects.
“Consider creating a mulch-free zone in your yard or garden to provide open space for the many bee species, including bumblebees, who nest underground,” said Louie. “Set out a shallow dish with water so thirsty bees can grab a drink, and add a few stones to it so bees can have places to stand as they sip.”
Gardeners can also try infusing their plots with flowering plant, ideally ones native to the area, to provide bees with food sources. A bee garden doesn’t have to take up the whole yard. A small portion of a garden can be dedicated to bee-friendly plants, or those can be established in window boxes or flower pots.
Bee houses can provide a habitat for solitary cavity-nesting bees. These can be found in stores or online, but bee hotels can do more harm than good if left out for multiple seasons. It’s best that the bee homes come down at the end of the season and left in an unheated shed or garage for the winter, so the pupae aren’t eaten by other animals. Then, in early spring, the whole home can be placed inside of a cardboard box with a hole in the top of it. Once the bees all finish emerging by the summer time, the house can be thrown out.
Drilling holes of varying sizes into dead trees that are still standing can also give the bees a place to stay.
To learn more about how to protect bee populations, visit thebeeconservancy.org.