When Will Urban Honey Bees Run Out of Food?

urban bees photo

Image credit: s pants, used under Creative Commons license.

From the joys of legalized beekeeping in New York to London's ambitious plans to promote urban bees, honey bees are returning to our cities in significant numbers. But while some research suggests the big city bees are more productive and healthier, other beekeepers are worrying that introducing too many bees into dense urban environments could place a strain on scant forage resources, putting established colonies at risk.

So when will urban bees run out of food?
Alison Benjamin, the co-author of Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeeping Handbook, writes over at The Guardian that there is disagreement between beekeepers about how many bees is too many bees for an urban environment? From a lack of research into how much forage pollinators need, to a lack of clarity over whether urban bees thrive because of good forage in cities, or simply in comparison to poor, monocultural farming practices in the country, it is almost impossible to quantify, says Benjamin, how many bees can survive in a given environment. But the bright side is that the bee crisis, combined with the revival of urban beekeeping, has lead to a flurry of research into increasing fodder crops everywhere:

In Newcastle, the city council has already made its horticultural services and ground maintenance bee-friendly at a neutral cost. Newcastle University's Dr Geraldine Wright, who is advising the council on its bee-friendly planting, also won a IPI grant to examine both the nutritional needs of honeybees and bumblebees and the nutritional quality of pollen and nectar. "This will allow us to estimate both whether the amount of forage in a given habitat is sufficient and also whether it is nutritionally 'complete'," explains Wright. "I agree that having more folks keeping bees in urban environments could actually lead to trouble if there isn't enough food for the bees being kept."

Given that many of the initiatives to protect the bee—from London's Capital Bee campaign to the Cooperative Group's Plan Bee—are focusing not just on proliferating hives, but also increasing wildflowers and decreasing pesticide use, the signs are good that forage opportunities will continue to grow with rising bee populations. And now that utility-scale solar power plants are becoming bee friendly wildlife havens too, the opportunities for thinking outside the box (hive?) are becoming ever more evident.

Promoting beekeeping is a wonderful thing. But let's all consider ourselves beekeepers—whether we actively manage a hive or not.

More on Protecting Honey Bees and Urban Beekeeping
Combined Wind and Solar Power Plant Nurtures Bees Too
The Joys of Legalized Beekeeping in New York (Video)
London's Bees Are in Trouble. Can the Olympics Save Them? (Video)
Big City Bees Are Healthier and More Productive
The Cooperative Group's Plan Bee Promotes Bee keeping and bee-Friendly Gardening (Video)

Related Content on Treehugger.com