Bees decline

Why are bees disappearing?


Many species of wild bees are in decline, but the European honey bee is doing well! The main causes of the decline of wild bees are habitat loss caused to the development of agriculture, industry and urbanization (destruction of nesting sites and native host plants on which bees forage), pesticides (insecticides , herbicides, fungicides), climate change and invasive species, including honey bees that are introduced in high density in places where floral resources are limited.




Is it true that without bees, we will all starve?


Not really! Across the world and in Europe, most of our diet depends on cereals and other crops that are not pollinated by bees: wheat, rice, corn, But without bees, some fruits and vegetables would become rare or disappear, would be smaller or less good-looking (asymetrical) or would cost more as the crop yields would drop due to low pollination rates.




If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, would man only have four years left to live?


Ah, the very famous fake quote from Einstein! He never said that and it is obviously not true! There are more than 20,000 species of bees and, although they are essential for the pollination of many flowering plants, a large part of our diet depends on plants being pollinated by the wind or without the help of insects.

The disappearance of bees would be tragic for most terrestrial ecosystems as a majority of flowering plants need their pollination services. And while many species of bees are struggling, the chances of all bee species suddenly disappearing are very, very low indeed.




Which bee species are legally protected or endangered in Brussels?


As of today, there are no legally protected species of bees in the Brussels region, but we're working on it! The first step to do so is to better understand which species have their populations declining, threatened or endangered ,and what the main threats are for these declining species. Once we know which bees are in trouble and why, we can design a plan to protect these particular species from specific threats. Some species recorded over the last century in the Brussels region by the Royal Institute of Natural History of Belgium, including many bumblebees and cuckoo bees, have now disappeared, while many other bee species have become very rare. The atlas project is there to come up with the exact and current species list, to better understand which species are at risk of extinction and which should be subject to legal protection in the Brussels region.





Basics

Do all bees live in colonies and produce honey?


Not at all ! There are 400 species of bees in Belgium and only one, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) produces honey. With the exception of about 20 species of bumblebees and some Lasioglossum which are social, all wild bees of Belgium are solitary, with the female building an individual nest in the ground or in a cavity where she'll store pollen and lay eggs.




What are the differences between a bee, a wild bee and a pollinator?


A pollinator is an animal that ensures pollination, the transfer of pollen from one plant to another, allowing fertilization and the development of seeds and fruits. Bees, many wasps, flies, butterflies, but also some birds and bats are all pollinators.

Bees are hymenopteran insects close to ants and wasps. Exclusively vegetarian, they are very good pollinators and play a vital role in the reproduction of most flowering plants in the world. There are more than 20,000 species of bees in the world, 400 in Belgium and more than 150 in Brussels.

Wild bees are all species that are not managed by humans, so that's actually 99.99% of bees! Only the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a domestic bee comparable to a farmed animal. All other species of bees are wild!




What are the differences between bees and wasps?


Bees is a term used to describe more than 20,000 species of insects worldwide, and wasps are even more diverse! There are many species of wasps, most of them solitary, either predatory or parasitic. Some species of wasps are social and live in paper nests, like some species of bees are social and live in nests made of wax.

Bees and wasps have a lot in common, but the big difference between them is the diet of their larvae: mainly vegetarian for bees and mainly carnivorous for wasps!




Do all bees sting? Do Bumblebees sting?


First thing: only female bees have a stinger and no male bee has one! So if you grab a bee and get stung, at least you know it was a female! But don't worry, among the 400 species of bees found in Belgium, a large majority is simply unable to sting you as their stinger is too small to enter your skin and inject venom. They can therefore be handled safely. In general, people will get stung by honey bees, bumblebees and large species of megachilid and halictid bees, all of which able to inflict a painful sting but usually only do so in self-defence when they are grabbed or trapped under clothing. Bees are gentle animals and will always try to get away from you instead of stinging you! And wasps are no different actually!





How to help

Should I get a beehive to help the bees in my area?


European honey bees don't need help, they're farm animals and don't exist in the wild anymore! Their populations are on the increase across Europe. And while they're important for agriculture and economy, they're a threat for conservation or biodiversity. Consider them like chicken farming to fight the decline of wild birds in Belgium. Installing a chicken coop won't solve the decline of wild birds in Belgium, and similarly installing hives won't solve the decline of wild bees.




How can I actually help wild bees?


Just remember: wild bees are craving for a bed and breakfast! The best way to help is to offer them just nesting site and host plants. Modify your garden to include many species of native plants suitable for bees and as many places to build their nest in the ground or in hollow twigs. You'll find on this page a list of tips to help the wild bees as almost no cost, but which have a concrete positive impact on wild bees.




I found an exhausted bee on the ground, how can I help it?


Unfortunately there isn't much you can do, except move it gently to a nearby flower. Most bees have a short life lasting for a few weeks or months, and it's likely you came across one that is at the end of its life, or infected with a disease or parasite. Saving an individual bee has no impact for conservation or population dynamics, but if you follow our advices on this site, you can make a different by creating a safe place for bees in your garden or on your balcony, potentially helping dozens of species with very simple, cheap and easy to implement tips.




Should I get one of these fancy bee hotels? Do they help?


Bee hotels are man-made structures designed to be installed in your garden and allowing certain species of cavity-nesting bees to nest in a series of hollow bambo twigs or other holes.
These hotels, comparable to birdhouses, can be useful for observing bees and raising awareness, but ultimately help only a limited number of species as most wild bees are ground-nesting or prefer other kinds of cavities to nest. It is better to have a series of small, custom-made hotels than a large, expensive one. You'll find more info on bee hotels on this page.





The Atlas

Why an atlas of the wild bees of Brussels?


Excellent question ! We know that wild bee populations in Europe are declining but we actually have very little information about the situation in Brussels. The atlas aims to gather all existing data about wild bees in Brussels, to establish a checklist of current species encountered in Brussels, to produce distribution maps for each species and collate all other relevant data on micro-habitat and host plants to better understand population trends, existing threat and the ecollogical needs of bees to develop effective conservation measure and legal protection.




Who's paying for all this?


The atlas project is fully funded by Brussels Environment (IBGE) and implemented by the team of Prof. Nicolas Vereecken at the Agroecology Lab of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Belgium, Natuurpunt and Natagora. This is a two-year project (2019-2020) coordinated by a very small team and relying on a large citizen science component supported by hardworking volunteers passionate about bees and their conservation!




When and how will the atlas made available?


In late 2020, the Illustrated Atlas of the Wild Bees of the Brussels-Capital Region will be produced and distributed for free as a digital download.
This atlas will include hundreds of photographds, distribution maps, insightful notes on more than 150 species of wild bees, explaining how to identify them, how to better protect them and where and when to find them in Brussels. And if funding is secured for this, we will also produce a printed version of the atlas to bring along as a dedicated field guide!




How can I help you for this atlas?


We definitely need your help to produce this atlas! You can help us by sharing your observations of bees, including photos, places and dates, as this will help us update the list of known species and our distribution maps. You can also help us by collecting wild bees in your garden and sending them to our experts who will study them and store them in the ULB collections for the decades to come. Don't worry, we will explain you how to collect specimens without having any impact of wild bees populations!




Doesn't collecting wild bees actually hurt their populations? :'(


Actually it doesn't if you do it well! A recent study shows that reasonable collection of wild bees with nets and coloured pan traps has no impact on bee diversity, abundance and population compositions. Driving in Brussels, taking public transport or mowing your lawn actually has a bigger negative impact than collecting bees to help our scientific project!

So don't feel bad about collecting bees on our behalf! It won't have a negative impact on populations and the specimens you collect will help us assess the health of bee populations across the city in order to define better conservation measures and to define which bees should be legally protected in the future. By collecting bees, you actually help SAVING them!





Frequently Asked Questions

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The Atlas of the Wild Bees of Brussels, funded by Brussels Environment and implemented by the team of Prof. Nicolas Vereecken at the Agroecology Lab of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, aims to better define the diversity, distribution, abundance and needs of more than 150 species of wild bees encountered in Brussels and to produce a document freely accessible and summarising the state of current knowledge.

WildBnB is the acronym of 'Wild Bees and Brussels' and refers to the concept of Bed and Breakfast (BnB), as our wild bees need nesting sites (bed) and host plants (breakfast) to survive and thrive in our urban environments. 

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Stéphane De Greef
Project coordinator

Agroecology Lab

ULB, Campus de La Plaine

T: +32 (0)2.650.6081

E: stephane.de.greef at ulb.ac.be

© 2019 WildBnB - ULB Agroécologie

All images by Nicolas Vereecken except when mentioned