The MAGAZINE article of September, 2023 [Updated]

- Canada’s Bees: An Intricate Relationship with the Environment and Climate Change -

Canada, with its vast landscapes ranging from rocky coasts to dense forests and high mountains, is home to a rich biodiversity. One of the unsung heroes within this biodiverse ecosystem is the humble bee. Canada hosts over 800 species of bees, with the honeybee being the most recognized, primarily for its role in honey production. However, bees in Canada play a much more vital role in the ecosystem than just producing honey: they are essential pollinators. The intertwining relationship between Canadian bees, the environment, and the looming threat of climate change is a subject of increasing concern. In Canada, bees are largely responsible for the pollination of both wild plants and cultivated crops. This pollination is a crucial process that ensures the reproduction of plants. In fact, it's estimated that one in every three bites of food we consume is made possible due to the work of pollinators, primarily bees. From blueberries in British Columbia to canola fields in the Prairies, bees contribute billions to Canada's economy by simply ensuring the continuity of food crops. The diverse environment of Canada, characterized by various climatic zones, has given rise to various bee species, each adapted to its specific region. From the bumblebees of the temperate forests, perfectly suited with their furry bodies to deal with cooler temperatures, to the sweat bees of the Prairies, each species plays a distinct role in its ecosystem. However, these crucial pollinators are facing increasing threats from various quarters, with climate change being a significant concern. As global temperatures rise, the natural habitats of these bees are undergoing rapid transformations. Flowering patterns are changing, affecting the availability of food for the bees. The delicate synchronization between the emergence of certain bee species from their winter dormancy and the blossoming of specific plants they rely on is getting disrupted. If bees emerge too early or too late, they might not find the necessary resources to sustain themselves, leading to a decline in their populations. Additionally, warmer temperatures are escalating the prevalence of certain bee pests and diseases. The Varroa mite, a significant threat to honeybees, is finding the changing Canadian climate increasingly conducive. As these pests proliferate, bee colonies face enhanced risks, leading to colony collapse and dwindling bee populations. Beyond the direct impacts of rising temperatures, climate change is also influencing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Prolonged droughts, heavier rainfalls, and irregular seasonal patterns are making it harder for bees to find food and reproduce. For instance, sudden cold snaps in spring can kill off a large number of bees that have just emerged from hibernation. Deforestation and land-use change, driven partly by human activities and climate change-induced disturbances, are leading to habitat loss. The fragmentation of bee habitats means they have to travel longer distances to find food, making them more vulnerable to predators and other threats. But it's not all grim news. Awareness about the plight of bees and their importance is growing in Canada. Numerous initiatives, both governmental and non-governmental, are working towards creating bee-friendly habitats. Urban beekeeping is on the rise, and many cities are planting bee-friendly flowers in public spaces. There's a concerted effort to reduce the use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, known to be harmful to bees. Moreover, research is ongoing to understand better the complex relationship between bees, the environment, and climate change. By leveraging technologies and traditional ecological knowledge, efforts are being made to create adaptive strategies to help bees thrive.

Illustration requested by Finally Content Canada. Published in CAA Magazine, Sep 2023

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The Hospital for Sick Children, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, University of Harvard, Universidad Austral de Chile, UCT-H Oñativia, SIIC, Hospital Dr. Oñativia, University of Toronto. :)