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Carly Otis

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Can urban beehives increase food production?

It has been estimated that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of the colonies of bees in US beekeeping operations have collapsed from a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This disorder is characterized by the disappearance of bees from a colony, but a lack of dead bodies to explain where they went. Some scientists believe that the culprit is a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (Cox-Foster et al, 2007). CCD is causing the collapse of bee colonies all over the world, reducing pollination rates, and causing essential food sources to become more scarce and more expensive. Noah Wilson-Rich, a scientist who studies bee diseases, has suggested an easy solution to the problem: urban beekeeping. In his Ted Talk “Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees”, Wilson-Rich shares that bees are actually surviving better in urban environments than rural ones. He suggests that increasing the number of urban beehives, along with introducing green roofs and urban gardens, will allow food production to begin to increase (while also reducing the prices of many crops). In many cities in the United States it is illegal to have a beehive because people are allergic and/or afraid of bees, but in some countries urban beekeeping is thriving (Paris, France is a great example!). 

Do you think it is possible for the United States to develop an urban beekeeping industry? Would it have enough of a positive outcome to outweigh the downsides of urban beehives?

http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5848/283.full

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Closing Statement from Carly Otis

After much conversation, I think it is safe to say that most people think that urban beehives will have a positive influence on honey bee populations and biological diversity in urban environments. However, many people pointed out that this will not solve the issue of colony collapse disorder that is facing bees. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the true culprit of this phenomenon is (possibilities are neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, Israeli acute paralysis virus, etc), but in the meanwhile urban beehives can help to maintain populations. It was mentioned a few times throughout the conversation that many people will be opposed to the introduction of urban beehives due to the rather large portion of our society that is afraid of and/or allergic to bees. To get around this, many people suggested that schools implement some sort of program to teach the public that honey bees are actually nothing to be afraid of, and that they will only harm you if you harm them. In addition, keeping beehives in places that are out of public view will help to alleviate some issues relating to neighborly disputes and accidental stings. One good technique is to place hives on rooftops, which will force bees to fly at a higher elevation and reduce the amount of bee-human interactions. Another issue with urban beekeeping is that there are much fewer food resources for bees in urban environments than rural ones, so it was decided that an urban beekeeping industry will only be successful in places where urban gardens and/or green roofs are also successful. Overall, it sounds like urban beekeeping has a good chance in the U.S., as long as we begin to educate people about honey bees and how critical they are for food production.

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    May 22 2013: Okay. Apparently the comment I posted earlier didn't post for some reason. Probably due to my bad internet. I don't really feel like typing it all out again, especially since most of it has been covered, so I will just try to sum up my main points:

    I think urban beehives are potentially a good idea as long as they are managed properly. The hives should be fenced off to prevent them from being a danger to the public, especially to those who are allergic to bees. In addition, the hives should be placed in parks so the bees will have a large area to gather resources and are less likely to be buzzing around the streets bothering people.

    One huge benefit to having these colonies in cities is that if CCD begins to affect these urban populations, it could potentially be easier to find the dead bees. In rural areas, there is so much space that the bodies are usually lost in the brush.
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      May 22 2013: Hi Derek,

      Do you think that fencing off the hives might impact biological diversity in any way? How big do you think the hive area would need to be? I have never seen fenced off beehives. Is this common? Do you have examples of where this has been done successfully in urban environments?
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        May 22 2013: Jessica,

        I was thinking more along the lines of an anti-human fence so that people (assuming here that we're referring to a park) don't stumble on top of the hive and get stung. It wouldn't even necessarily have to be a fence, just something that provides a boundary that people wouldn't miss.

        I don't have any examples of this. A google search of beehive fences resulted in examples of using beehives as a deterrent for elephants in Africa. I would just think you would somehow want to protect the beehives in question from people, as well as people from the beehives.
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          May 22 2013: Using bees to deter elephants? That sounds cool. What exactly are they being deterred from and why is it effective?
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        May 22 2013: Carly, elephants are extremely fearful of bees, so some African villages will place beehives around the perimeter of their village so elephants won't come walking through. If an elephant encounters the hive, it'll stop and walk away.

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