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How late is this Action to save the World? Bees Survival=OURS!

In How late is this Action to save the World? Bees Survival=OURS! on kp25 at 301429

Don’t Forget Butterflies! Our Pollination Crisis Is About More Than Honeybees

When President Obama signed an order last week creating a task force that will seek to promote pollinator health, honeybees grabbed the headlines.

“Obama announces plan to save honeybees,” CNN proclaimed. “White House creates new honeybee task force,” the Wire echoed. “White House task force charged with saving bees from mysterious decline,” the Guardian added, referencing the colony collapse disorder that contributed to the death of 23 percent of managed honeybees last winter.

But those headlines overlooked the most important part of the presidential order: it encompassed all pollinators, including birds, bats, native bees, and butterflies — not just honeybees. The memorandum will spur the creation, within the next 180 days, of a National Pollinator Health Strategy that will lay out ways for the U.S. to better study and better tackle the problems facing pollinators, both wild and managed. While the plight of bees has gotten deserved attention of late, many species of pollinators face the same threats: habitat destruction, climate-induced changes in flowering and weather patterns, and in some cases, pesticides.

Wayne Esaias, director of NASA’s HoneyBee Net, said that while his work involves using honeybee hives to track changes in nectar flow over time to see how climate change is impacting honeybees, the problems wild pollinators face worry him more than the plight of managed honeybees.

We hardly know all their names.

“Our natural ecosystems depend not on the honeybee for pollination, but on our native bees and native pollinators,” Esaias said. “And we hardly know all their names.”

Elusive Subjects

Esaias’ assessment that the full spectrum of pollinating insects hasn’t even been identified is one part of a major weakness in the study of insect pollinators in the U.S., especially native bees. There are about 4,000 species of bees in North America, and about 400 haven’t been identified yet. That’s because there are only “a handful” of people who are familiar enough with bees to tell one species from another, said Sam Droege, biologist at the USGS’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and expert on wild bees.

“You can’t identify them on the wing like a butterfly,” he said. “A bee on the wing is a little black dot, and they move really fast, and a lot of those little black dots look essentially the same until you get them under a 60 power microscope.”

With managed honeybees, it’s easy to figure out how populations are doing. Honeybees — which didn’t exist in North America before settlers brought hives over from Europe — live in hives and are managed by beekeepers, so determining the percentage of bee losses that have occurred over the course of a year or a decade involves surveying those beekeepers.

Determining the status of thousands of species of native bees, on the other hand, is more complicated. Droege is trying to complete a survey of wild bees throughout the U.S., using biologists and citizen volunteers who put out red party cups full of propelyne glycol. The bees are attracted to the color of the cups and end up falling in and being preserved by the propelyne glycol. The volunteers then send the bees into the lab for Droege to identify. But being one of the only people qualified for this task makes the process of identifying the bees slow and creates a bottleneck in the research, Droege said.

Rich Hatfield, field biologist with the Xerxes Society surveys for wild bees in an alpine meadow on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Rich Hatfield, field biologist with the Xerxes Society surveys for wild bees in an alpine meadow on Mount Hood, Oregon.

CREDIT: Oregon Zoo/ Michael Durham

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