Maybe you can imagine a world without honey, but what about strawberries or broccoli? Honey bees are responsible for 80% of all pollination worldwide. Most human food crops are pollinated by bees. These small flying insects are more important to us than you can imagine and we, humans, are partly responsible for their rapid decline in populations.

In worker bee colonies, the reproduction rate is highest in spring and summer and lowest in winter. Usually a bee colony will lose 5-10% of its bees during winter, but today in the U.S. as many as 30-50% of the bees die in winter. Many factors contribute to the decline in bee populations, such as pesticides, habitat destruction, and global warming. Pesticides, which are commonly found in garden products and agriculture, are used to eliminate pests. However, pesticides such as carbamates and neonicotinoids have a lethal effect on bees. Other pesticides may be less toxic, but can still affect the bees’ ability to forage and reproduce. Herbicides, which destroy unwanted plants, reduces the food available to bees and therefore less pollination. Another reason for the decline in bee populations is habitat loss. Due to urbanization, natural habitats have been replaced by buildings and highways. With less land to travel across, bees are isolated and it is harder for them to get enough nutrition they need and find mates. Bees are also affected by global warming. Shorter winters result in flowers blooming earlier. When bees finally start pollinating, competition for nectar increases. A colony’s reproductive growth largely depends on nectar. The concern is whether bees will be able to synchronize the timing at which they pollinate with the flowers, and attain as much nectar supply as they need.

We can all take action to help the bees. Simply planting flowers in a garden, without using pesticides, can provide bees with the habitat they need to forage and gather nectar to support their colony.