PUP Op ed Original: Noah Wilson-Rich on why urban dwellers should be raising bees on their rooftops

Belted beeNoah Wilson-Rich studies bees and the diseases that are depleting their colonies. He founded the Best Bees Company, a Boston based beekeeping service and research organization, has given a TED talk, and is now the author of The Bee: A Natural History, recently published by Princeton University Press. Today he shares with us the vital importance of urban beekeeping.

CITIES ARE KEY TO SAVING BEES
By Noah Wilson-Rich

Nearly a decade after the start of Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.), a bizarre phenomenon whereby honey bees simply vanished from their hives across the United States during 2006-2011, bees are still dying at unsustainable rates today. Across the country, about one in every three hives does not survive the winter. Germany shares this alarming statistic across their apiaries. Bee deaths seem higher in areas with harsh winters and in areas with monoculture agriculture use – but lower death rates in cities. In Boston, urban bees not only survive the winter at higher rates, but they also produce more honey than beehives in surrounding suburban and rural environments.

The Bee jacketBees are vitally important creatures. We tend to give honey bees (Apis mellifera) all the credit for pollination because most people are familiar with the old man beekeeper working his white painted beehives image. Yet, honey bees are only one species of bee from about 20,000 total species worldwide. Their contributions span far past pollinating around 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon, and an estimated $100 billion to the global economy each year. Of the $15 billion that bees contribute to the United States economy annually, the alfalfa bee alone contributes an estimated $7 billion. The alfalfa bee! (Cattle rely on alfalfa for feed.) If the future of humanity is to involve nutritious food, then we must consider bees.

Regardless of what caused or ended C.C.D., or why bees are thriving in cities, the discovery of urban beekeeping as a safe haven for bees gives us hope. The post-C.C.D. world still has myriad dangers for bees; they are still dying. The three leading hypotheses for what’s killing bees: 1) Diseases, 2) Chemicals (e.g., fungicides, pesticides, etc.), and 3) Habitat loss. The Typhoid Mary event for bees that opened the flood gates to a series of additive plagues was in 1987, when Varroa mites first came to the United States. In 1998, small hive beetles were added. In 2004, imported Australian honey bees brought with them Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In 2006, C.C.D. began. In 2013, the fungus Nosema ceranae became omnipresent in all 200 hives that my laboratory sampled. And we haven’t even started on the pesticides, fungicides, and habitat loss yet.navigating bee

Spring brings to light the brighter side of things. My beekeeping team was back out this year, tirelessly checking hives, maneuvering rooftop equipment on skyscrapers, trekking through waist-high snow drifts, looking for signs of life. One team returned to our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuary in Boston’s South End, reporting that 100% of the day’s hives visited were alive. I assume they stayed around Boston or Cambridge that day, and my suspicion was right. The next day, another team of beekeepers returned from the field, their faces long trodden and forlorn, with only 1 out of 15 hives visited that day having survived the winter. I assumed they visited countryside beehives; I was right.

Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”

Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)

Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. The pesticide policy came into effect long ago, way before “killer bees” gave the non-aggressive bees a bad rap. Rather, policy makers received bad info, that bees attack fruit – and decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban the bees. We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. Yet the law of the land remains, and Angelinos must kill beehives upon site. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping as soon as within the next few months.

Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment. For example, simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based company. His latest book is THE BEE: A Natural History.

Read the introduction here, and take a peek inside here:

Presenting the New Trailer for Beth Shapiro’s “How to Clone a Mammoth”

Should we clone extinct animals? Evolutionary biologist and “ancient DNA” researcher Beth Shapiro’s highly anticipated How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction takes apart an idea that not so long ago seemed more fiction than science. Now, several teams of researchers are working to reconstruct the mammoth genome. How to Clone a Mammoth is making its debut with an array of coverage, including a feature in yesterday’s Sunday Times. From the article:

What excites some scientists, and disturbs others, is that the genome could one day become a template to recreate real mammoths — or something like them.
In her new book, How To Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro of the University of California, an expert on ancient DNA, said: “If we really want to bring mammoths back to life, then we’re in luck, as far as DNA preservation goes. Some mammoths lived in places where their bones and carcasses were buried in permafrost, like being stuck in a freezer for 30,000-plus years.
“It’s in pretty shoddy condition, so hard to piece together, but if we sort through these tiny pieces, finding where they fit along the elephant genome, then we can slowly build a lot of the mammoth genome.”

We are delighted to share the book’s wonderful new trailer:

 

Sunny, Spring Book List

The Bee
Say goodbye to cold, dreary winter and hello to spring. Welcome the season by checking out Princeton University Press’s selection of natural history books. Wondering what bird you hear chirping? Download BirdGenie Backyard Birds East and West and find out. Some choices to get you out of the house and into nature:

bookjacket

The Bee:
A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich
With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley
“The natural history of solitary, bumble, honey and stingless bees is as gripping as our lengthy alliance, as urban beekeeper Noah Wilson-Rich and contributors show in this charming compilation. They cover evolution, biology (including a unique proboscis made of two organs), behaviours (such as honey bee ‘quacking’), the causes of catastrophic die-offs, and more.”–Barbara Kiser, Nature

 

bookjacket

Birds of Australia:
A Photographic Guide

Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones
“Written primarily for the visiting birder, reading a copy of this book will fire up anyone’s desire to get out into the field to see more of our fabulous birds.”–Sean Dooley, Australian Bird Life

 

bookjacket Britain’s Butterflies:
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland

Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson
“The images in this pocket-sized photo-guide are excellent and include pictures of eggs, chrysalids and caterpillars of all breeding species. Comparing very similar species can be difficult, but computer mock-ups helpful place specimen in situ. Clear text and page design make the book easy and fun to use.”BBC Wildlife magazine

 

bookjacket Britain’s Hoverflies:
A Field Guide

Revised and Updated Second edition
Stuart Ball & Roger Morris
Praise for the previous edition: “The latest field guild from the excellent Wildguides. . . . Beautifully and clearly laid out.”–Charlie Moores, Talking Naturally

 

10 interesting facts about bees

8-7 Bee BookWhen I was asked to write a post about bees, I felt a lump the size of a honeycomb rise in my throat. I thought to myself,  “Bees? Like the things that ruined my 8th birthday party or every trip I’ve ever taken to Rita’s Ices? Those things?!” Yes, those things, but amazingly enough, after reading through Noah Wilson-Rich’s new book The Bee: A Natural History, I can honestly say my opinion of bees has changed, for the better. Here are 10 interesting facts about bees that will hopefully either solidify your love of these insects or foster a new appreciation for them.

1. Thousands of years ago, bees evolved from carnivores to herbivores. Maybe this explains my initial irrational fear of them!

2. There are over 20,000 species of bees who are classified in nine families and further divided by short, medium, and long tongues.

The Bee: A Natural History, Pg. 67

3. Bees can see ultra violet rays. They see the world primarily in purples and blues.

4. Bees have just ten receptors for taste, but 163 receptors for smell.

5. Honey bees communicate via dancing. The Round dance communicates the nearby presence of food. The Waggle dance is used to communicate the location of a food source more than 165ft away from the hive. The direction, distance, and quality of the food is made known through the Waggle. If a threat is detected near the food, another bee will interrupt the dancing bee with a head-butt.

6. In 2000, honey bees provided an estimated $14.6 billion to the US economy.

Pg. 49

7. Only female bees sting.

8. Queen bees and worker bees share the same genes, the only difference is future queen bees are given extra rations of royal jelly.

9. Bees pollinate over 130 fruits and vegetables.

10. Flowering plants developed attractive, scented, and brightly colored flowers once bees changed their foraging preference from animal protein to a vegetarian lifestyle.

Watch This: Digiscoping with Clay and Sharon, The Penultimate Episode

In this episode, Clay and Sharon show off some digiscoping/iMovie techniques that allow you to watch birds in slow-motion. They also reveal a new adapter that connects your phone to your binoculars creating a super portable digiscope alternative!

There are lots of hints at the theme of the series in this episode, I think. Do you have it yet? If you think you know, make sure you send your guess in to the Birdchick at digiscoping@birdchick.com (be sure to include the answer, your first and last name, mailing address and phone number). for the complete contest details, please visit the Birdchick site.

ps — thanks for the shout out for The Warbler Guide!

The Crossley Bird ID Contest: The Results!

We’re delighted–or rather, happy as a lark–to announce that we’ve drawn the lucky winner of the Crossley Bird ID Contest, featured in BBC Wildlife Magazine, December 2013 issue. Thank you to BBC Wildlife and to all of the keen birders who flocked to submit their entries for a chance to win a copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland by Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens.

Could you tell a Bullfinch from a Chaffinch? Are you able to spot a Starling? The answers are below!

BBC Wildlife
The winner is picked from the Princeton bag!

Jenny pecks the winner out of a bag

Draw 2

Jenny chirps with delight as the winner is selected

Congratulations to Clare Adams from Nottingham who correctly identified all of the featured birds. A copy is “winging” its way to you now!

And here is the answer key. How many did you get right?

#1 Coal Tits
#2 Great Spotted Woodpecker
#3 Great Tit
#4 Common Buzzard
#5 Wood Pigeon
#6 Robin
#7 Great Tit
#8 Song Thrush
#9 Chaffinch
#10 Goldfinch
#11 Chaffinch
#12 Bullfinch
#13 Pied Wagtail
#14 Starling