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Flowerless habitats a real buzz kill for bees, Columbus included

Declining bee populations have been a problem for locales worldwide, and Columbus is no exception. Credit: Ashraf Amra/APA Images/ZUMA Wire

Get the bees some flowers.

In March, Honey Nut Cheerios gave out more than a billion free wildflower seeds in the hopes that U.S. consumers can help make their environments more bee-friendly, while also raising awareness of the declining bee populations in North America.

One Ohio State bee expert said every little bit helps, especially in urban, less floral areas such as Columbus.

Reed Johnson, an assistant professor of entomology, and one of his graduate students found Columbus to be a “rotten” place to keep bees in a recent study published March 14.

“We put some colonies of bees on the very western edge of Columbus and we gave them a choice, do you want to forage in the urban landscape, or do you want to forage in the agricultural landscape,” Johnson said. “We tracked those colonies and found that bees were telling other bees to forage in the agricultural landscape.”

Johnson said this is probably due to Columbus’ lack of flowers in its urban areas in the summer and fall when compared to more rural areas.

“What Cheerios is doing is worthwhile,” Johnson said. “The only thing bees eat are flowers, so the more flowers we can get out in the world, the better off bees are going to be. It’s been a real problem in urban Columbus particularly.”

Over the past decade, bee populations in commercial colonies have experienced a die-off rate of up to 30 percent. In January, the North American bumblebee was added to the U.S. endangered species list for the first time.

Generally, the major causes of the decline include a combination of the loss of flower and nesting habitats, excessive use of pesticides and the spread of pathogens, Chia-Hua Lin, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology, said in an email.

Johnston said a parasitic mite was introduced to the U.S. in the 1980s that killed colonies of bees as well as their habitats.

When first launched, Cheerios said its #BringBackTheBees campaign was an effort to replace some of that lost habitat.

“Planting wildflowers is recommended by conservationists as one of the best ways to support pollinators,” the company said in a statement. “Honey Nut Cheerios wants to create a more bee-friendly world by encouraging consumers to plant more than 100 million wildflowers this year.”

However, Lin said she’s concerned about Cheerios’ shipments of packets of the same seed mix across North America.

“I appreciate Cheerios’ intention to raise awareness about the bees,” Lin said in an email. “However, many of the plants on their seed list aren’t native species. Some of them may grow well in certain regions, while some could become invasive, causing problems to the ecosystem.”

If people want to increase habitats and food for bees, it is important to select plants that are both attractive to bees and ecologically friendly to their environment, Lin said.

The OSU Bee Lab offers webinars and resources for anyone who is interested in learning about and supporting bees and pollinators in general.  

One comment

  1. Thank you for pointing out that the real problem is the lack of flowers for pollinators in urban environments. The Cheerios bee packet was a general purpose mix of adaptable flowers that provide nectar and pollen to bees and other pollinators. It was intended for home gardens and not sustainable landscapes like wildland areas, roadsides, pollinator strips in croplands, etc. Many people, including experts in various fields, criticized the mix for being inappropriate for these plantings, but that wasn’t its purpose.

    The original blog was full of inaccurate information. The forget-me-not was NOT Myosotis scorpioides – it’s not even available in the seed trade. The California Poppy is not invasive throughout the southeastern U.S. The blogger was critical of the non-native plants in the mix, but she recommended that people should check out University extension websites for pollinator plant recommendations. I looked at a few dozen, and most listed BOTH native plants and non-native garden flowers that are good for pollinators.

    There’s a growing body of research that suggests that mixing native and non-native plants in designed landscapes and home gardens can benefit pollinators. These are just a few:
    Stewart, Scott (2016) “Pollinators benefit from mixing native and non-native plants”. Ecological Horticulture, Mar 29.
    Garbuzov, Mihail and Francis Ratnieks (2014) “Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other flower-visiting insects.” Functional Ecology 28, 364-374.
    Salisbury, Andrew et al. (2015) “Enhancing gardens as habitats for flower-visiting aerial insects (pollinators): should we plant native or exotic species?” Journal of Applied Ecology 52, 1156-1164.
    Frankie, Gordon W. et al (2014) “California Bees & Blooms: a guide for gardeners and naturalists”

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