A new study has found that longer spring seasons associated with climate change may be harmful to certain bee populations.
Researchers focused on a region in the Colorado Rocky mountain range and three species of bees. Using 40 years of climate and flower data collected by David Inouye, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park, the report concludes that mountain snow in the area is melting earlier than it used to, resulting in longer spring seasons with longer growing seasons for flowers. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been an increase of total number of days with low flower availability since spring began getting longer.
One of the study’s co-authors, Rebecca Irwin of North Carolina State University, said to the Scientific American, “Years that have a lot of days with low floral abundance seem to be years that have really low snowfall and early snowmelt.”
The study points out that when flowers emerge too early, they are susceptible to early spring frosts which can kill some of them off. Additionally, if snow melt begins flowing down mountain sides too early in the spring, there can be drought conditions later in the summer when it runs out.
It was found that years with a lot of low floral abundance days also had lower bee populations. The scientists write, “Our study suggests that climate-driven alterations in floral resource phenology can play a critical role in governing bee population responses to global change.”
When the general public thinks about bees, one image comes to mind: the honeybee.
If UI Professor Emeritus Steve Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” had a central message, it was that nearly 20,000 other bee species exist and provide often under-recognized ecosystem services.
Hendrix gave the presentation at 34th Bur Oak Land Trust Prairie Preview on Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 300. He said, “All plants need pollinators some of the time, and at least some plants need pollinators all of the time.” Indeed, pollinators provide 225 billion dollars in pollination services. While honeybees receive the majority of public praise, wild bees, which are often small, solitary creatures with short life spans, do 90 percent of the pollinating on U.S. farms. Additionally, according to Hendrix’s research findings, honeybees are less effective pollinators than wild bees.
While the number of bees in the U.S. is declining, one of Hendrix’s studies provided a glimmer of hope for bees in North America. Hendrix and his colleagues compared populations of bees on large prairies with those in smaller, urban gardens and parks. Surprisingly, regardless of the area of land the bees had to roam, there was no difference in bee diversity, species richness, or abundance. The main predictor for healthy bee populations was the presence of a extremely diverse plant life.
Hendrix rounded out his presentation with a look to the future for wild bees. He emphasized once more the importance of the insects, which are largely credited with providing food security for humans. He said, “There’s going to be changes in the distribution of bees.” Due to global warming, many bee species that were previously found in southern states are making their way to Iowa. Hendrix added, “The big bees are going to be the losers in this climate change world we’re living in…it’s going to be the rare bees that are affected most.” Hendrix said that there has been limited research about what this will mean for ecosystems and human health, but encouraged all those in the audience to continue fighting to conserve habitat for bees in Iowa.
Exhibits from more than 40 environmentally-focused and conservation organizations filled the foyer and ballroom. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
The Bur Oak Land Trust is a local non-profit that accepts land donations from landowners looking to permanently protect natural areas. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Nearly 300 people attended the event on Thursday night at the Clarion Highlander hotel in Iowa City. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Dick Schwab, long-time Iowa conservationist, introduces the keynote speaker, Dr. Hendrix. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
The event is hosted by the Bur Oak Land Trust, an Iowa City organization that accepts land donations from residents seeking to place natural areas into public conservation trusts. The Prairie Preview XXXIV will feature a presentation from University of Iowa professor emeritus Dr. Steve Hendrix. Hendrix’s presentation, titled “Wild Bees of Iowa: Hidden Diversity in the Service of Conservation” will discuss the economics and biology of pollinators, declines in honey bees and wild bee populations, the value of restoration for wild bees and the future of wild bees, among other topics. Hendrix will also provide basic information about wild bees that live in Iowa. His presentation will be based on his original research along with the work of others in the field.
Hendrix said his presentation “is important from the perspective of ecological services that wild bees provide. They are responsible for the successful reproduction of prairies and they provide the pollination needed for fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy.”
More than 40 environmental organizations and agencies will also be present at the Prairie Preview XXXIV sharing information and providing resources to attendees. The event is free, open to the public and will take place at the Clarion Highlander Hotel and Conference Center at 2525 N Dodge St, Iowa City, Iowa 52245 on March 9th, 2017. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the event begins at 7:30 p.m.
This Prairie Preview, which usually attracts crowds of over 200 people, is sponsored by the Iowa Living Roadway Trust, Iowa Native Plant Society, City of Coralville, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Fiddlehead Gardens LLC, Forever Green, Friends of Hickory Hill Park, HBK Engineering, Legacy GreenBuilders, Project GREEN, Veenstra & Kimm, Inc., and Lon and Barbara Drake.
The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the consortium-a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.
A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.
Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”
The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.
In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”
The rusty patched bumble bee was recently added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list for the first time.
The Xerces Society, a non-profit conservation group out of Portland, Oregon, petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service for the species’ new designation. Serina Jepsen, director of the Xerces endangered species program, said in an interview with Radio Iowa, “The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by about 90% from its historic range,” Jepsen added, “It used to occur across 31 states as well as some Canadian provinces. It now occurs in just a handful of locations and it really only exists in any numbers in a few areas in the upper Midwest.”
Small numbers of the rusty patched bumble bee are still found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, but meaningful populations have not been detected in Iowa in years. Native pollinators like the rusty patched bumble bee are estimated to add $9 billion in value to the agricultural economy each year.
Jepsen said, “These animals together, not just the rusty patched bumble bee, but the rusty patched bumble bee and all of the other native bees that provide pollination to both wildflowers and natural ecosystems as well as our crops, are incredibly important to functioning ecosystems.”
Now that the species has been added to the endangered species list, “The Fish and Wildlife Service now has the authority to develop a recovery plan and work towards the species recovery. I think this will really make the difference this species needs in terms of its future survival and existence, really,” Jepsen said.
She added that providing habitat that sustains all pollinators depends on the continuation of investment from public agencies combined with efforts of private citizens.
The rusty patched bumble bee has a way of giving back.
Jepsen said, “Addressing the threats to the rusty patched bumble bee that it faces, from pesticide use, from disease, from habitat loss, will help not only this species but a wide variety of other native pollinators that are really important to functioning natural ecosystems as well as agricultural systems.”
Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association filed the lawsuit following the release of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study which noted the company’s Sue Bee Honey contains trace amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup. The advocacy groups acknowledge that the herbicide residue may be the result of neighboring row crop farmers’ actions, but still find issue with what they say is false advertising. They said, “labeling and advertising of Sue Bee products as ‘Pure,’ ‘100% Pure,’ ‘Natural,’ and ‘All-Natural’ is false, misleading and deceptive.” The Sioux Honey Association, founded in 1921, did not respond to requests for comment from the Des Moines Register.
The lawsuit also calls for increased government oversight over glyphosate levels in honey. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet set the maximum levels of glyphosate herbicide residue allowable to ensure consumer safety. In contrast, the European Union’s maximum residue limit for the herbicide is 50 parts per billion. One Iowa honey sample in the FDA’s study contained 653 parts per billion.
Glyphosate’s effect on human health is unclear. In one email between FDA officials, representatives say that EPA evaluations have “confirmed that glyphosate is almost non-toxic to humans and animals.” However, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, has deemed the herbicide “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Glyphosate contamination in Iowa is a complicated issue. Twenty-five million acres of row crop were planted this year, the majority of which were treated with Roundup and other herbicides. Iowa’s 4,500 beekeepers face challenges finding safe locations for their hives. Andrew Joseph is the state apiarist and a beekeeper. He said, “I don’t think there’s anywhere that would be safe. I don’t think there’s any place for beekeepers to hide.” Joseph also said that any herbicide contamination is an issue for beekeepers, many of whom consider honey purity to be a source of pride. Bees travel in about a three mile radius from their hives when pollinating, which can make limiting their exposure to contaminants difficult. Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Producers Association, said, “I don’t know how you would fix that,” he added, “Bees need agriculture, and agriculture needs bees.”
Dorchester County officials aerially sprayed a pesticide called naled early Sunday morning, resulting in the death of millions of honeybees and other pollinators. Due to concern regarding four travel-related cases of Zika reported in the county, the chemical was sprayed over 15 square miles in order to eradicate mosquitoes that may further spread the virus. Naled has been used in the United States for over 50 years but has a contested reputation nationwide. The pesticide was banned in the European Union in 2012 after it was deemed to have a “potential and unacceptable risk” to human health and the environment. Conversely, naled has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1959 and is sprayed over 16 million acres of U.S. land each year.
The scene painted by beekeeper Juanita Stanely was bleak. “On Saturday, it was total energy, millions of bees foraging, pollinating, making honey for winter,” she said in an interview with CNN on Monday, “Today, it stinks of death. Maggots and other insects are feeding on the honey and the baby bees who are still in the hives. It’s heartbreaking.”
Stanley, co-owner of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, said that she lost 46 hives and nearly 3 million bees on Sunday with no warning. She explained, “…when they sprayed by trucks; they told me in advance, and we talked about it so I could protect my bees. But nobody called me about the aerial spraying; nobody told me at all.” The pesticide application was the first aerial spray in the area in over 14 years. Dorchester County Administrator Jason Ward said that attempts were made to notify the public about the aerial spraying through an alert on its website posted two days before spraying. He added that county officials also reached out to beekeepers that were on the local mosquito control registry, but that one country employee failed to follow notification procedure.”He made a mistake in terms of going down his list, and failed to call,” Ward said.
Had she been warned, Stanley said that she would have told officials to do their spraying at night.” ‘Do it at night when bees are done foraging,’ I would have told them,” she said, tears filling her eyes, “But they sprayed at 8 a.m. Sunday, and all of my bees were out, doing their work by then.” Though county officials have publicly apologized, they maintain that the pesticide was used as directed. “We followed that recommendation,” said Ward, “which is also the policy laid out by the state, using a pesticide the state has approved for use.”
Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland, said that there are ways to eradicate infected mosquitoes without killing invaluable pollinators. He said the issue reaches beyond honey bees, “If you’re killing honeybees, you’re killing a lot of other non-honeybee pollinators, too, and those populations could take a long time to recover.”