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 22 2013: Dont know if anyone has posted this yet. National Geographic did an article about about a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Biology. In the study the researchers showed that an exposure to certain pesticides inhibited the bees memory and communication skills (waggle dance). Both memory and communication are crucial for pollination and the bees survival. If either is affected than pollination rates and bees ability to survive could be effected. Interesting read.

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      May 22 2013: The study you brought up is interesting and I hadn't heard of this phenomena before. This could potentially be a reason why bees aren't thriving as well in the U.S. It would be interesting to compare the effects of pesticides from different areas where bees are not doing well to places where they are thriving. This could show if our pesticides are a large contributing factor to the bees population collapse.
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      May 22 2013: I think pesticides really need to be looked into more, not just for bees but for other pollinators too. Pesticides are good in that they kill the pests that would normally harm or destroy crops. But pesticides can also kill the good organisms that crops benefit from.

      Unfortunately it seems as though there is not just one cause of CCD. TIME magazine posted an article online that says, along with pesticides, things that cause CCD are several viruses, a parasitic mite, and a bacterial disease. While hopefully the pesticides that do cause CCD will eventually not be used, viruses, mites and bacteria are much harder to treat in bees.

    • May 22 2013: In a Nat Geo article called "The Plight of the Honeybee", the author compares CCD in bees to HIV/AIDS in humans: AIDS isn't what kills you, it is the opportunistic ailments that take hold when your immune system is low. So what if CCD is similar? I think that it is extremely important to find out what causes the change in the honeybee colony that inevitably leads to its demise. Could it be pesticides altering behavior and physiology in the bees be that?

      The EU just recently banned the pesticide thought to be the major contributor to honeybee declines, neonicotinoids, for two years. Bees exposed to neonicotinoids have been found to have an increased amount of nosema, a gut parasite. If worker bees' lives are reduced - even by a couple of days - that can have a huge effect on colony production, potentially leading to the failure of it.


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