BY MEGHAN WEATHERALL
“It’s like a game of Jenga, you can move one block but what happens if it’s the wrong one or too many,” said Victoria MacPhail, co-chair at Pollination Guelph.
The concern about how drastically the population of bees in Ontario has decreased didn’t start until around 10 years ago, when Dr. Sheila Colla’s bee survey was conducted for her PhD. In the early 2000s Colla revisited sites in Guelph where the bee population had been surveyed back in the 1970s. Her survey showed that the populations either drastically declined or became non-existent.
“That was sort of the first science we found here in Ontario,” said MacPhail. “We probably have around 400 types of bees in Ontario, sizes ranging from one millimetre to a couple centimetres. There is a huge diversity and we are wondering what is happening to all the other pollinators: the butterflies, beetles and everyone else.”
In 2013, the Canadian Honey Council estimated that the number of bees dropped 35 per cent over three years. In 2014, the Globe and Mail reported that 58 per cent of honeybees didn’t survive the winter. The usual bee lose during winter is around 20 per cent. Ontario lost 38 per cent in 2015. The reason behind this decline isn’t just attributed to one thing, there are multiple factors that play a part in the decrease of pollinators.
Environmentalist and author Frank Glew wrote in his book Melissa’s Magnificent Message that out of all the factors that are killing off the bees, the main four are: varrora mites, loss of habitat, climate change and pesticides.
MacPhail said, “Pollinators are responsible for two-thirds of all pollinations out in the world, that includes a third of our agricultural crops. We have a saying that one out of every three bites you take is the result of an animal pollinator. This could be the obvious fruits like strawberries and apples, to the not so obvious things like beef. Losing the bees would have a big impact on our food.”
Beekeeper Kimm Khagram said, “Honeybees are important pollinators for some commercial crops, but without the dozens of species of native, mostly solitary bees in Ontario, some people predict ecosystem collapse.”
Organizations like Pollination Guelph have simple ways for people to start helping repopulate Ontario’s bees.
“Plant more flowers,” said MacPhail. “Even if you are on the 10th floor of an apartment building, putting out some flowers can still help some pollinators. If you have a larger yard you can increase habitat. If you don’t have a large garden and still want to help, we have several planting sites around the city that we are always looking for people to help us manage.”
In Ontario the government has created the Pollinator Health Strategy. The Internet page for it lists different actions they are taking to support pollinators. The strategy includes: financially supporting beekeepers who have lost a high number of beehives, limiting usage of pesticides and developing their action plan to include other stresses that are causing bees to die out.