Q&A Blog | World Bee Day

Sheila Colla

Check out this World Bee Day Q&A blog with Dr. Sheila Colla, a trained ecologist, York University’s research chair and associate professor aiming to address international conservation issues. Dr. Colla is the principal investigator of her Native Pollinator Research Lab which focuses on the conservation of lesser known native species!

Q&A Blog

Published May 20, 2022

All images provided courtesy of Sheila Colla.

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What are a couple of little known facts about bees that you wish more people were aware of?

That the European Honey Bee is a non-native species. It is invasive in many parts of the world, including Canada and is not at-risk of extinction. None of our native species make honey because they hibernate over the winter and do not need to store food. There are 865 native species of bees in Canada. The biggest threat to wild bees at-risk of extinction is the transfer of disease from managed to wild bees.

Why are bees so important to the health of agriculture and the environment?

Wild bees are the most important pollinating group of animals in Canada. Not just for wildflowers but also food crops. In farmlands, even where managed bees are rented, studies show wild, native bees often are more effective pollinators. In urban areas, wild bees provide pollination services for community gardens, backyard vegetable gardens or city fruit trees. They also pollinate trees, shrubs and wildflowers in natural green spaces, which provides food and shelter for other wildlife like songbirds.

Imp Male Bee

What are some things that the average citizen can do to help keep the bee populations in good shape?

-Spreading the word about native bee biodiversity (mostly people are just familiar with the European Honeybees)

-Contributing to community science programs like BumbleBeeWatch

-Planting native plants

-volunteering for local organizations that steward natural greenspaces.

As an avid researcher, do you think bees are an endangered species? What actions should be taken in order to protect these bees?

About a quarter of the 50 or so bumblebee species in North America are at-risk of extinction. Some are critically endangered. The main threat is the transmission of disease from managed bees to wild bees. Other threats include insecticide use, climate change and loss of food plants and nesting habitat.

What advice would you give the youth who want to follow a similar path as you? What sources do you recommend for young students?

Some useful skills include wildlife species identification, GIS, statistics, animal behaviour, study design and field biology. Try to get these through courses, volunteering or paid positions. A drivers license is also very useful. Other than that, follow your interests!

Rufo red male

Bees are one of the most hard working creatures on the planet as they are essential for the ecosystems. Due to the rapid decline in bee population in recent years, ecosystems and food supplies have been at great risk. What part of the ecosystem will face the majority of the consequences if bees were to be an endangered species?

This is kind of answered in previous Qs but it’s important to know not all bees are in decline, only a portion of them. And the European honeybee is not at-risk of extinction either. There are some management issues with loss to to parasites but beekeepers can order more colonies, so it’s a financial loss, not a biodiversity loss.

The Sheila Colla’s Native Pollinator Research Lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to research and policy development. Why is this approach necessary to better the future of these tiny insects?

Humans are the ones who make the decisions, shape policy, manage landscapes, contribute to climate change, design agricultural production systems, etc. If we want to conserve bees, we need to incorporate socio-cultural context, not just ecological studies, otherwise we won’t be able to change the drivers causing declines.