Wild for Bees

Above: MABR Research Institute summer students building the new pollinator hotel destined for the Kwalikum Food Forest in October. Photo coutesy MABRRI

By contributor Chantelle Spicer

To bee or not to bee? Everyday, people around the world are becoming more aware of how important bee populations are to our existence on this planet. We now know that one of every three bites of food we consume is due to the work of bees in both wild populations and human-maintained hives. The commercial value of these maintained hives contribute an estimated $100 billion annually in fruit, vegetables, and honey. This is on top of the role pollinators play in a natural, functioning ecosystem, including supporting biodiversity and healthy gene pools among native plants. The importance of this animal service is something that is hard to wrap a human brain around—something we can know, but not fully understand. On the flip side of this pollinator importance is a heavily loaded fact: in the last decade we have seen a decline of approximately 50 to 90 per cent in both wild and maintained populations across Canada. With over 700 species of wild bees at risk, plus those species used for industrial pollination, the loss would be felt in all facets of our lives.

Many organizations around the world are recognizing this and taking the grand first steps to educate the public on the issue and then put real solutions into effect. In the month of October, one of our own Vancouver Island organizations will proudly be adding to this movement. The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) will be installing the first of two pollinator “hotels” within their boundaries. The pollinator hotels, built by MABR Research Institute (MABRRI) summer students, consist of an elevated housing area, with bundles of sticks, brick, straw, clay, and other materials placed inside. Holes of varying sizes are drilled into the material, creating suitable habitat for a potentially diverse population of insects. The fall timing for the installation of the first hotel will ensure the materials used are properly weathered and decayed for habitation in the spring. In the meantime, it may also provide a hibernation habitat and make them available for pollinators in the early spring.

bees

This first hotel will be installed in the Kwalikum Food Forest, increasing the area’s potential for food sustainability and community health. It is not just about installing the hotel, though: a long-term monitoring system will be initiated to track which pollinators are in the area, their populations, and if invasive insects are out-competing the native pollinators. This monitoring system will mean keeping the pollinator hotels within the urban interface for now so trends can be easily monitored. Eventually, the hotels will be placed at higher elevations of the MABR, improving pollination of rare flowers and plants in at-risk alpine areas. Until then, they will work to remind people of our fragile balance with pollinators and increase public awareness of the issue.

The second of the pollinator hotels is to be installed on Snaw-nas-as First Nations traditional territory. Until then, this hotel is located at VIU on the Nanaimo Campus in the Peace Garden behind the library.

A pollinator hotel in the Peace Garden on VIU’s Nanaimo campus.
A pollinator hotel in the Peace Garden on VIU’s Nanaimo campus.

Hopefully, measures such as this will help reverse the decline of bees in our area; however, one vital change that needs to happen lies within government. This summer, Ontario was the first place in North America to ban the use of neonicitinoids, a pesticide that has been identified as being a factor in the decline. Between the increase in urban bee-keeping, the use of pollinator hotels such as what the MABR is implementing, and stricter legislation, we can bee more pollinator friendly.


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