Environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth Canada is encouraging Canadians to participate in the first annual Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count, an event aimed at raising awareness about drastic declines in bumble bee populations and helping scientists to determine where across the country bumble bees are most in need of protection.
“Bees are absolutely essential for pollinating flowers and vegetables,” says CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, Beatrice Olivastri, in conversation with the CBC. “For our food security we absolutely need bees.”
Running from June 1 until August 15, 2016, the Canadian bumble bee count asks Canadians to snap summertime pics of bumble bees in gardens, at cottages and campsites and upload them to bumblebeewatch.org, which is run by a partner group which has been organizing bee counts across North America. Once uploaded, researchers will check each photo for verification purposes and use the data to help identify conservation needs and to locate rare and/or endangered populations of bumble bees.
“Just like governments need a census to know what’s happening with its citizens, their homes, families and jobs, we think bumble bees need their own census,” says Friends of the Earth Canada.
In Canada, there are some 40 different species of bumble bees and a significant number of them seeing marked declines over the past two decades, including the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, apparently not seen in Ontario since 2009. Like honey bees, bumble bees are pollinators in the wild as well as being used for commercial purposes on greenhouse crops such as peppers and tomatoes. In the late 1990s, companies began to see declines in commercial colonies precipitated by disease such as the Nosema bombi fungal infection, with wildlife experts noting similar declines in wild bee populations.
The link between the commercial and wild population declines has been a matter of speculation for years but only recently has it been confirmed by scientists. A study published this past April from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, concluded that N. bombi-related die-offs in commercial bumble bees employed to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes in the Western U.S. and in Eastern Canada were followed shortly thereafter by drops in wild bumble bee populations, indicating a causal connection.
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“These associations support the hypothesis that Nosema escaped into wild populations from heavily infected commercial colonies, at least during the earlier years of bumble bee domestication in the U.S.,” said University of Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron. “But we still don't know whether the fungus is becoming more virulent or the bumble bees -already stressed from habitat loss and degradation and other infections- are becoming more susceptible to Nosema.”
Friends of the Earth also encourages Canadians to support bee habitats by creating their own “Bee & Bee” – involving a nesting site and flowering native plants -for local species to visit and to help with native plant species pollination. “Bumblebees are extremely important foragers,” says the group. “Unlike honeybees, they are able to forage under cold, rainy and cloudy conditions. This makes them excellent pollinators of native plants and a variety of crops.”
Friends of the Earth just completed a similar bee count in the United Kingdom, where participants submitted photos of over 370,000 bees.