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Health of Bee Pollinators in Canadian Agriculture Lacombe

The health of bee populations is central to a long-term, sustainable pollination strategy for Canadian agriculture. Managed and wild bee pollinators have suffered substantial losses in abundance and diversity for many years. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists are studying the issues affecting the health and survival of these pollinators.

The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the principal managed pollinator in agricultural crop systems. Previous studies have examined individual factors that influence the success of honey bees, including newly-introduced parasites and diseases, poor nutrition and the effects of agricultural pesticides. In the current study, AAFC is using a large-scale experiment to determine the interactive effects of these factors on colonies under different management practices, including honey production, canola seed pollination or blueberry pollination. This research is generating insights as to the key risks affecting colony productivity and survival and will lead to improved practices for Canadian beekeepers.

Declines in wild bees have been linked to the loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat, land use intensification (particularly the use of pesticides) and diseases. AAFC has systematically identified the types and densities of bees found in different agricultural ecozones across the country. Bee samples have also been analyzed for their exposure to pesticides, and whether they harbour known or new pathogens.

The outcomes of AAFC's research on bee pollinators will provide specific recommendations to reduce honey bee losses and improve the sustainability of bees as pollinators in agricultural ecosystems.

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