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: Just to add some prospective to this topic, and not to say increasing the number of urban, suburban and rural beehives is not important.
    But with nearly 20,000 known species of bees plus other insects that pollinate, some of the clams of disaster if we loss Honey bees are exaggerated.
    Right now I can look at a flowering bush and I see over a dozen types of bees, the ground/miner bees season does not start to around July. (I know this because I have a colony in my pole-barn, that emerge every year after the spring rains.)

    I just discovered bee house, so helping solitary bees looks to bee as simple as placing a bee house in your garden.
    Here a good Video on them http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhM3kugXTEU
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      May 22 2013: This is a great point, Don. So many different insects contribute to pollination. Appreciating and maintaining pollinator diversity is important.
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      May 22 2013: Your mention of a wide variety of pollinators makes me wonder if any of these insects might cause problems for urban beehives. Africanized honey bees are one insect variety I can think of that might cause problems. They are known for their more aggressive behavior and have the ability take over European honey bee hives. I think this more aggressive behavior may also be responsible for some of the negative stigmas associated with bees. The possibility of urban beehives being overtaken by this more aggressive variety of honeybee should definitely be considered and strategies to combat unwanted invasions should be devised.
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        May 22 2013: This is interesting, it never occurred to me that some types of honey bees might be more territorial and might actually outcompete other bee species. I think that if urban beekeeping becomes more popular, it will be imperative that the keepers know exactly what kind of bee they have and what influences that may have on natural populations. On top of that, people who aren't very informed about how to keep their bees happy and healthy might actually contribute to the increase in CCD by spreading viruses to other bees in the area. Because of this it will be super important that people are informed about beekeeping before starting a hive.

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