TED Conversations

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?



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 21 2013: It's a very interesting idea that I think still needs a lot of research as to which specific geographical regions are in need of this, what the bee population is in those regions, if CCD is occurring in those regions, and whether or not the public would be open to the idea of keeping urban bees, knowing that there are a lot of people deathly allergic to bee stings (public epipen stations?).

    Not only are bees very important to food product for humans, they are also very important to the overall natural food chain. For example, taking a tour of an "urban farm" the other day there was an urban beehive. Ever so often, birds would fly in and have a buffet of bees. Not only would bees be control by their predators, such as birds, they are important to a healthy food chain that if the bee population is healthy, so is the bird, spider, and many organisms that rely on relatively stable bee population. So the overall impacts of CCD is a scary reality on many social, ecologically, and agricultural levels.

    Heres another great TED talk on about a "Plea for bees" by Dennis Vanengelsdrop
    • May 22 2013: Good point about geographical regions where is this a problem. Did you find anything on particular regions where CCD is a problem?
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        May 22 2013: I actually didn't, I'm not sure if there is an actual geographic correlation with CCD. Mostly because there isn't much known about it at all. I think its occurring pretty randomly in terms of geography. It could be consequence due to geographical location, global warming, pesticides, etc who knows. But maybe there is some data that suggests its more common in some places than in other, yet I couldn't find anything that had information. Maybe if we established those regions, it'll make it easier to determine whats casing CCD.
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          May 22 2013: The only kind of geographic correlation that I found had to do with the introduction of varroa mites, which have all sorts of negative influences on honey bees. If I can find the paper that I read I'll give you the link, but from what I remember it sounded like the varroa mites originated from australia (I could be wrong about this though) and CCD has increased in areas where the bees used in beekeeping operations were shipped from australia. I don't personally think that varroa mites are the sole cause of CCD, but I think they significantly reduce the honey bees immune system, making them more susceptible to viruses, so it makes sense that CCD is increasing in areas where varroa mites have been introduced.

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