Between 2005 and 2009, honey bees in Germany moved their “cleaning” flight forward by about 28 days, meaning it now takes place significantly earlier than before. The flight (which serves to empty their bowels after overwintering) shows that a colony is becoming active again after weeks or months of overwintering. It can only be undertaken during the first warm days after winter. This finding was presented by Dr Stefan Berg, Head of the Bee Research Center at the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture, during the International Bee Conference from March 28th to 29th in Berlin. Among the roughly 500 participants – mainly from Germany – were beekeepers, politicians, representatives from various authorities, scientists and journalists, as well as bee experts from Bayer. A comprehensive program provided an overview of current topics and activities in the area of bee health and the benefits of pollinators for agriculture. Hosts of the meeting were Christian Schmidt, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture and Peter Maske, President of the German Beekeepers Association.
Many environmental factors can affect the health of honey bees and wild bees – including the availability of varied nutrition for honey bees or nesting habitat for wild bees, threats from pests and diseases and agricultural activities. Bayer has addressed these topics intensively for many years in its Bee Care Program, through international research projects and initiatives. Negative effects on the well-being of bees often result from a combination of diverse factors. Referring to climate change, for example: This can affect flora and fauna and, among others, influence the health of bees. When the flowering period of some plants shifts, the availability of pollen and nectar that provide food for the bees, also changes. "Although honey bees collect food from diverse plants, several species of wild bees are highly specialized on one plant species. If the flowering period of those plants shifts relatively to the active period of the bees, they may not be able to find the flowers which they need any more, and foraging may become a problem for such specialized wild bees," explains Peter Trodtfeld, bee expert and beekeeper at the Bayer Bee Care Center.
Christian Schmidt, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, opens the event.
Other important topics in Berlin were bee pests including Nosema and the Small Hive Beetle, as well as diseases such as American Foulbrood. "Attention in the scientific community has clearly shifted away from Varroa mites," reports Trodtfeld. "While Varroa is still considered to be the biggest threat for the health of the European honey bee, there has been very little real progress in the fight against this parasite in recent years," he explains.
Another main topic of the Bee Conference focused on the benefit of bees for agriculture. One important point emerged: "Farms are tending to get bigger. Small farms with their varied mixture of crops are being replaced by large, specialized agricultural enterprises, some of which grow monocultures. This can contribute to a loss of pollinator biodiversity", says Dr Juliana Jaramillo, scientist at the Bayer Bee Care Center.
Pollinators are important for global food production. Worldwide about 75 percent of the most important crops depend, at least in part, on pollination by insects. Every year, bees contribute around 235 – 577 billion US dollars to the global economy – that is up to eight percent of the total production. Dr Jaramillo sums up further findings that were presented at the Bee Conference: "The share of crops that depend on pollination by insects is largest in North America." Some plants can also be wind-pollinated. But nevertheless, many plants benefit from insects: "The yield gain from insect pollination is especially high in Asia and Africa. Farmers in Europe benefit, relatively seen, the least from crop pollination by insects."
The Bee Protection Conference in Berlin provided the perfect opportunity for bee researchers to strengthen their networks within the scientific community. Together, they are working to improve bee health, to maintain pollination services and secure the food production of tomorrow.
Download the program of the Bee Protection Conference in Berlin here.