Why do Bees love hemp plants, and what does this mean for the survival of their species?

Bees, An Endangered Species.

Exciting preliminary research indicates that Bees love hemp plants. Does hemp have the potential to restore the dwindling bee population?

According to Greenpeace, since the late 1990s beekeepers around the world have observed the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Bees with most reporting a drastic decline in bee colonies.

The decline in the bee population seems to be directly linked to the increased industrialization of agriculture, parasites and pathogens, climate change and the widespread use of bee-killing pesticides.

But why are Bees important, and how does their sudden decline affect us? The answer to this lies in the value that Bees bring to our ecosystem, particularly as facilitators of pollination.

Consider this alarming statistic, nearly a third of our food production depends on pollination. So, you can imagine how devastating a world without pollinators would be for our food production.

To understand the economic impact of declining bee populations around the world, imagine if we were to hand pollinate the crops. Such a system would be labour intensive, slow and very expensive. It would cost an estimated €265 billion, annually, worldwide, so from a purely economic point of view, it pays to save the Bees.

But how do we go about it? Greenpeace recommends shifting from destructive industrial agriculture towards more sustainable and ecological farming techniques.

  • This would involve banning bee-harming pesticides.
  • Having an action plan in place for fostering the bees.
  • Adopting organic means of agriculture.

However a recent study published in the Journal of Biomass and Bioenergy has found that restoration of the declining bee population may be achieved with hemp flower.

Hemp Pollen, a Food Source for the Bees?

This study was conducted in Northern Colorado where hemp flowers between late July and late September. It was led by Colton O’Brien, an entomology student at Colorado State University’s Graduate School.

The idea for the study came to him when he first stepped onto the university’s hemp fields. He was surprised to discover that swarms of bees were gravitating to the hemp. This was even more surprising because hemp is a wind pollinated plant and bees essentially play no role in their pollination.

This revelation fueled O’Brien to further study how hemp fields contributed to the ecosystem of the bees. What helped his research was that during the period of this study, there were few other crops that pollinated in the region.

So, he set up a couple of traps when the hemp was in full bloom with the goal of finding out what bees are attracted to the pollen given off by hemp. With the traps, O’Brien was able to confirm that the bees were collecting pollen from hemp.

Colorado is home to around 66 species of bees of which 23 of these species were found to be gravitating towards the hemp fields. They found almost 2,000 bees from 23 different bee genera. Most of those (38 percent) were classic honeybees, but there were also specialized genera such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa that turned up in surprisingly high proportions.

Furthermore it wasn’t just the bees that were benefiting from the hemp pollen but also parasites of certain bees. Although the parasites weren’t taking the pollen directly from the hemp flower, they were utilizing the pollen bought back by the bees. O’Brien believes that hemp fields created the “dynamics of an ecosystem” for bees that previously didn’t exist without the hemp plant.

This study could hold immense potential as economists attempt to reverse the trend of the declining bee population. In hemp, scientists may have found a suitable pollinating crop to improve their habitat and safeguard their lives, not to mention provide a valuable food source for endangered bees. The researchers concluded that hemp can be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to a number of species of bees.

While further studies are very much needed to analyse the nutritional value of hemp pollen to bees as well as the interactions of the several cannabinoids in the hemp flower with the physiology of the bees, this research puts the spotlight on hemp cultivation which is slowly becoming more popular than ever, since it has been recently federally legalized. But with increase in hemp production, there is an increased risk of pests attacking the crops. It will ultimately be up to the farmers to develop an integrated pest management plan designed to protect pollinators while controlling pests.

Authorship

Malcolm Pinto.

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