The impact of the Australian wildfires has been devastating and terrifying. They pose a very real danger to the country’s immensely diverse insect populations. But the bushfires may have put one species of native Australian bee on the teetering brink of extinction.
It was one year ago today that Joe Wilson, Olivia Carril and I published our paper that explores how shrinking and carving up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument might impact the incredible bee communities that live there. The issues raised in the paper are what took us back to the monument this past summer to continue studying the bees and create our documentary film. Give it a read when you have the chance, it’s open access.
One thing I’ve enjoyed tracking and following this year is the seemingly increasing number of state-level initiatives to protect bee and insect populations. The Saving America’s Pollinators Act is a bill that’s been introduced several different times at the federal level but has, once again, stalled out in committee. The current national political conditions seem much more conducive to state and local actions when it comes to taking bees and other insects into consideration.
Discussing the hazards that different pesticides might potentially pose to bees can be a frustrating and tricky thing. The problem is that risk assessments are done with honey bees. And the honey bee is by no means representative of the roughly 3,999 other bee species in North America. Sure, a certain dose of a certain chemical under certain conditions might not kill off a perennial honey bee colony with tens of thousands of individuals. But what would the effect be on a single bee who is alive for only six weeks, raising her brood of eight? Especially when the greatest exposure to pesticides can come from the soil.
The Trump administration weakened the Endangered Species Act. Franklin’s bumble bee is being considered for the Endangered Species List – but under the newly-weakened law. And the yellow-banded bumble bee won’t be considered for protection as an endangered or threatened species (despite the fact that it’s now found in only 14 of the 25 states it used to inhabit).
Earlier this spring, the NY Farm Viability Institute awarded $41,000 to Combplex Inc., a Cornell University start-up that is testing the use of lasers to kill Varroa mites on honey bees as they enter their hive. “One of the most significant challenges faced by beekeepers is disease and colony loss caused by the Varroa mite and the viruses it transmits,” NYFVI states in a profile of 2019 FVI projects. “They have designed a device which uses optical recognition to identify the parasite on the bee’s body as it enters the hive. If it is present, the battery-powered device uses a high-powered laser to kill the mite.” The profile says the devices have been successful in the lab, and Combplex plans to trial the device in 150 commercial hives in New York state. According to the start-up’s website, Combplex began as an interdisciplinary research project in 2017 between two Cornell Ph.D. students.
(The Bees of GSENM project) A week of fieldwork and filming the bees of Grand-Staircase Escalante is complete. There is truly nothing better than working with amazing people in one of the most beautiful and rugged places on Earth. Now, on to the next steps: analyzing our collection of bees and shaping the raw footage of our adventure into an outstanding film to share with all of you. More to come, my friends!
(The Bees of GSENM project) First day of fieldwork and filming complete! Office space was excellent. Successfully navigated a few unforeseen obstacles.