Could the humble Mason Bee save the planet?
When you think of bees, what comes to mind? A honeybee or maybe a bumblebee if you’re fond of things that defy the laws of physics. Have you ever even heard of a Mason bee?
There are over 20,000 known species of bees worldwide, but it’s the honeybee that gets the attention because of its eponymous sweet nectar. By now we all know the worrying news that honeybees aren’t doing so well. The combination of neonicotinoid use, chemicals, pathogens and invasive species has led to a massive decline in the honeybee population.
Aside from the hardcore honey addict (hands up!), it’s the agricultural industry that has the most to lose.
Many beekeepers use their colonies for pollination as well as honey production. Their hives are transported, allowing farmers to forego any beekeeping of their own. The bees-for-hire pollinate the orchards and fields, before being packed up and moved to the next farm. The value of the honeybee’s pollination is thought to be between $14 and $29 billion annually. Compare that to the measly $400 million honey industry, and it’s easy to see how important bee pollination is in the grand scheme of farming.
A chief proponent of the honeybee population decline is Colony Collapse Disorder. When Colony Collapse Disorder occurs the majority of the hive’s worker bees die off, leaving the Queen and a few nurse bees with large stores of food. As these colonies collapse, there are fewer and fewer honeybees available to pollinate.
Enter the mason bee. This solitary bee species don’t have the same convenient hive delivery option as honeybees, but they are genius at spreading pollen around an orchard. Where a honeybee will stay dedicated to one area, the Mason bee tends to move around more, widely dispersing the pollen.
According to Mason Bee Revolution: How the Hardest Working Bee Can Save the World- One Backyard at a Time: “Honey Bees Make Honey; Mason Bees Make Food.”
Farmers need to get their ducks in a row when it comes to their favourite pollinators. When an estimated 44 per cent of colonies are dying off each year, maybe it’s time to diversify their bee portfolio.
Photo: Mason Bee Revolution