How important are bees? by Julie Peller Ph.D.

How important are bees?  One third of the food we eat depends upon pollinators – mainly bees – for successful yields of crops, from pumpkins to apples to grapefruit. Worldwide, honey bees and other pollinators help to produce about $170 billion in crops annually. Human dependence on pollinators is a crystal clear example of the connection between people and God’s creatures, also known as integral ecology. 

            The world’s bee population has been on the decline since the 1980s.  According to one recent study, the managed bee population decreased by 40% from April 2018 to April 2019.  Managed bees are those that are raised and shipped to areas in need of pollinators.  The United States relies on about 26 million colonies, which are often transported from place to place, for adequate crop production.  Almonds represent a crop that is highly reliant on bee pollination. California fields produce nearly 85% of the world’s almonds and depend on about 1.6 million bee colonies each year to be successful.        

According to experts, the causes of the declining bee population are likely numerous and complex; a main contributor is a parasitic mite that invades hives. Certain pesticides used in agriculture and lawn care also contribute to reduced bee populations, as does climate change.  The European Union has banned many harmful pesticides to slow or overturn the decline. Experts believe that a continual loss of bees will lead to higher food prices.

            Everyone can help rejuvenate the bee population.  Replacing pesticide-treated grass with wildflowers and mowing lawns less frequently (of course, reducing pesticides and watering) are simple ways to show greater respect for nature. It is also imperative to support science programs that study pollinator populations.  Last year, weeks after researchers reported that nearly 40% of managed honey bee colonies in the country were lost, the USDA suspended data collection for the Honey Bee Colonies survey, citing budgetary reasons. Science is important for understanding the natural world (including all of us!) and for its protection. “Lord, help us to maintain a reverent attitude towards nature, threatened from all sides today, in such a way that we may restore it completely to the condition of brother/sister and to its role of usefulness to all humankind for the glory of God the Creator.” Franciscan prayer

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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