It's generally a bad time to be a bee in the United States. Populations of the pollinating insects have been declining for more than a decade, including managed honeybee colonies as well as various species of native wild bees.
Of course, this isn't just bad news for bees. Not only do honeybees give us honey and wax, but bees of all stripes play a pivotal role in our food supply. Bees pollinate plants that provide a quarter of the food eaten by Americans, accounting for more than $15 billion in increased crop value per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And along with bees, many butterflies and other insects are also vital crop pollinators. As MNN's Tom Oder wrote in 2013, "one in three mouthfuls of food and drink Americans consume is the result of insect pollination."
Some big changes are needed to solve a problem this big, like curbing the use of bee-killing insecticides, studying the threat of invasive varroa mites and restoring native prairies, whose wildflowers offer key bee habitat. But as one city in Iowa plans to demonstrate, big changes like these can start with smaller, simpler actions.
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