The Bees Have It

They can be fuzzy, buzzy and occasionally downright ornery, but without bees there would likely be no ‘us.’

In fact, our entire growing system revolves around these little insects. Their daily gathering of nectar and pollen for themselves and their larvae acts as a natural delivery system for plant propagation. The pollen is transferred from one plant to another, ultimately helping plants to develop seeds, which in turn create new plants from which the bees can feed. It’s a mutualistic relationship for both plant and insect, with the added bonus of keeping us humans alive.

Dr. Jane Morrison

“They really are an essential component of growing food,” says Dr. Jane Morrison, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Environment and Geography. “These pollen gatherers are what keep the system moving.”

Dr. Morrison first became interested in bees while working with a research group that was studying the potential benefits of “weeds.” Though coming from an agricultural background, with no prior knowledge of entomology, she was fascinated by the role bees play in agricultural systems.

“There are over 20,000 different species of bees in the world, including wild bees, bumble bees and honey bees, which were actually imported into Canada,” she says. “Of all those species of bees, less than ten produce honey. Many bees are solitary, while some, like the honey bee, live in colonies.”

A frame from the Bishop’s Bees hive

Monoculture agriculture has proven a hindrance to a thriving bee population, as it lacks a variety of plants. Dr. Morrison suggests that by restructuring common agricultural practices, we can ensure the health of these essential insects, while also improving the crops themselves.

“In sustainable agriculture we have mixed crops and encourage the maintenance of natural areas, offering a variety of resources for bees. Different bee species might prefer different types of flowers, so having that diversity everywhere is always very important. Bees are also supported by having plants which are in flower at different times of the year.”

“It’s all about creating biodiversity,” she says. “That is the cornerstone of good crop health, good bee health, and, ultimately, good health for us.”

Interested in learning more? Check out the Bishop’s Bees Club or discover the specialization in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems!

From the Bishop’s University Magazine, No. 53, Fall 2019, P. 7

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