By Rachel Nehemiah
Of all pollinators, bees account for the greatest amount of pollination: about 80-90 percent worldwide. And we can thank bees for about one third of our crops too – things like onions, broccoli, chilli peppers, watermelons and pumpkins rely on bees for pollination. Being so important, not only to the world as a whole but for agriculture, it is important that bee populations be stable.
However in recent decades there have been dramatic declines, and the populations are showing no signs of recovery. This has come to be called Colony Collapse Disorder. The loss of bee populations would be devastating to agriculture; already declines are leading to unusual alternatives. Although we aren’t completely sure what is causing this phenomenon, we have a fairly good idea: global warming, for one, which can cause flowers to bloom earlier, essentially blooming at a time when bees aren’t necessarily around to pollinate them.
Another cause stems largely from big agriculture. While it may seem that bees would thrive in large swaths of agricultural land, big monocultures farms are actually detrimental to bees due to the pervasive use of pesticides. Although the intention of pesticides is to be toxic to pest insects, they are not discriminating, and as such are harmful to bees as well. Lastly is habitat loss. With over 83 percent of land now affected by humans (and most of that land being most of Earth’s arable land), there is a lot less habitat left for bees.
While cities can’t help much with global warming (temperatures in cities tend to be warmer than comparable natural land due to the Urban Heat Island Effect) or with habitat loss (obviously urban areas have less natural habitat than natural areas), they can potentially help with pesticides.
Urban farms, community gardens, and green roofs are becoming more and more common as cities become greener. Since these are mostly part of the larger green movement of recent years, most of these use little to no pesticides. Of the five largest urban farms in New York, four are organic and forgo pesticides altogether or use very little of it. It’s possible that the new greenery in cities, of which urban farms are a large part, could be creating pockets of pesticide-free sanctuary for bees in the city.
This, added to the rise of urban beekeeping may mean that cities may become an unexpected ally to bees. Since this greenery is currently few and far between in cities, bees probably won’t find complete salvation in cities. But facing the ever worsening threat of CCD, bees are in need of help wherever they can get it. Hopefully as the movement grows, more urban farms, gardens and green roofs will crop up, reducing the problem of habitat loss little by little and potentially providing more continuous and ubiquitous sanctuary for bees in cities.