Thursday, October 22, 2015

Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carol

Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carol are co-authors of comprehensive new bee guide, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees. From their Q & A at the Princeton University Press blog:

In the introduction to your book, you discuss the many misconceptions surrounding bees–what ‘myth’ do you find yourself most often dispelling?

OC & JW: It used to be that every time we told folks what it is that we studied, they would try to find common ground with us by relating a story about that one time that they had been stung by a bee (the truth is, only female bees are even capable of stinging, and they are not very aggressive. In all the many years of collecting bees and handling them–sometimes hundreds in a day, we’ve been stung less than two dozen times). Anymore, though, people skip telling us about being stung and ask: “So how bad off are the bees?”

How bad is the bee decline, really?

OC: The truth is that 1) we don’t really know because 2) its complicated. Its complicated because there are so many species of bees. If one kind is in decline, we really can’t assume that all 30,000 kinds around the world are. Or because some are in decline in the eastern United States doesn’t mean that western populations of that same species are too. We can guess that many of the landscape alterations we’ve made in the U.S. are not beneficial (replacing midwestern prairies with monocultures of corn and soy, fragmenting desert areas with parking lots and strip malls, perhaps even our unchecked use of insecticides), but the actual impact is largely unknown. Systematic bee surveys were seldom conducted 100 years ago, so we don’t have solid baseline data against which to compare current population levels. And at least some bee species seem to naturally vary 10 to 100-fold from year to year based in part on floral bloom and weather.

We do know for certain that for several years honey bee populations appeared to be dropping dramatically and the reasons for that are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue