Conservation and Biodiversity

Can we maintain bee populations after the pandemic?

With traffic and business halted from COVID-19 shutdowns, air pollution in cities has plummeted. That’s good news for humans — and bees. 

Billions of bees are killed every year by vehicles, but with fewer cars on the road, they are catching a much needed break. And as other human activities have slowed, like pesticide application, bees are also benefiting from chemical-free range in parks and gardens. 

This reprieve, however, is likely temporary. Air pollution has dropped, but it can easily surge after lockdown, as is currently happening in China, according to a new report by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. 

So, how can we continue protecting bees, even after the pandemic? That answer lies in our own experiences. 

For the last couple decades, bees have been facing threats from climate change, decreasing crop diversity, habitat loss and pesticides. Pesticides alone can wipe out entire species, even ones not targeted. 

And just like us, bees are battling a virus, in the form of parasitic mites, which can kill a colony in less than two years if left untreated. Like coronavirus, these diseases are more easily spread in an environmentally degraded world. 

“A globalized economy and our systematic destruction of the natural world create the perfect conditions for pathogens and parasites to establish novel hosts and quickly spread overseas,” writes Alison McAfee in Scientific American

This system has also allowed the Asian giant hornet, or “murder hornet,” to arrive in the United States. And murder hornets, like their name not-so-subtly suggests, can decimate bee populations, killing a whole hive in a matter of hours. 

Bees pollinate about three-quarters of fruits, vegetables and nuts in the United States., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Without bees, food crops would wither, and plants and flowers would suffer. Plus, bees don’t only pollinate foods we eat — they also pollinate food eaten by birds and other mammals.

Amid all the chaos of the pandemic, COVID-19 has allowed us to reconnect with nature. And once the pandemic passes and restrictions lift, it’s up to us to maintain this connection and protect pollinators like bees. 

Learn more at Earth Day Network’s Conservation and Biodiversity campaign, and sign our Pesticide Pledge to reduce the amount of pesticides killing pollinators.