As you may have heard, we’re hosting The Bee Dinner at Karelia Kitchen on July 13, 2016. (Check out this blog post for all the info, and join the Facebook event here). Our venerable host will be Dr. Laurence Packer, a melittologist at York University. A melittologist is someone whose main academic passion is the study of wild bees (the 20,100+ species other than the domesticated western honey bee).
We decided to ask Dr. Packer a few more questions about bees, their environment, and their importance in the agricultural ecosystem that produces our food supply. Let’s dive in!
Dr. Packer, can you tell us a bit about how you got into your field of work and what attracted you to studying bees specifically? Did you ever dabble in other fields of entomology before settling on bees?
Aesthetics—bees are beautiful (as are most wasps). Like most children, I started on butterflies, then became a generalist as an undergraduate but before I got my degree I was specializing on bees and wasps. My PhD was on sociobiology, and since then I’ve done all sorts of research, but all on bees.
Why should we care about bee extinction? We know their diversity and pollination are key to agriculture and the global ecosystem, but how and why does this work? What would the consequences be if they went extinct?
Most of our most nutritious foods require pollination. We’d still have many staples [if bees went extinct], but who would want to survive on oats, wheat, corn, with few to no nuts and fruits?
Why are bee populations declining? Does it have something to do with neonics? What are the factors influencing bee population worldwide?
Climate change, habitat fragmentation, pesticides (“neonics” these days).
What can concerned and interested citizens do, especially people who may not have a background in science or activism, to get involved and make change in this issue?
Write to MPs and MPPs supporting neonicotinoid bans and action to reduce climate change. Keep honey bees away from wild bee hotspots.
Are you into “bee-haviour”? Can you tell us more about swarm intelligence & decision making in bees? What do you think humans could learn from bees?
It’s honey bees that swarm, and I study the other 20,100+ species so I’ll defer on this one—other than by saying that some have said that anonymous voting is an idea supported by studies of bees, and in committee meetings etc., that should be applied.
What is the most exciting or interesting thing that has ever happened to you in the field? Or what’s the most interesting place you’ve visited on the earth and why?
Finding a very weird bee that I immediately knew nobody had ever seen before, also in one of my favourite areas: the Atacama desert of Chile.
Finally, as we are hosting a dinner, here’s a food question: are you a foodie, and what are your favourite foods and why? Any bee-reliant or bee-relevant foods you particularly enjoy?
Yes—I like to cook and what food I prefer to cook changes over time, often Indian, sometimes Thai, sometimes Persian. Of course, BBQ in summer. Persian recipes for squash I particularly like these days—and most squashes are 100% dependent on pollination!