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Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them

by Laurence Packer

No matter what you eat, how you dress, or where you live, your life would change for the worse if a few key insects disappeared. Although there are only a handful of pollinators among the more than 19,500 known species of bees, the human diet would be severely diminished without them. Since the advent of colony collapse disorder in late 2006 – which resulted in millions of mysterious honey bee deaths – extinction is no mere science fiction scenario. (And the danger is not restricted to one species, either.)

York University biology professor and bee specialist Laurence Packer has written a love letter to these amazing creatures. It is also a wake-up call for anyone who is more apt to swat a bee than let it do its important work.

True, major crops like wheat and rice are grasses, and therefore wind pollinated. But we do not live on bread alone. Coffee, almonds, berries, tree fruits, most vegetables, and alfalfa – all worth billions of dollars per year – rely on bee pollination.

The typical agent of pollination is the domesticated honey bee. Back-up pollination duty is performed by a host of species such as bumblebees. Human activities like habitat destruction and pesticide use endanger these essential cogs in the food chain. Any way you look at it, we hurt ourselves by failing to protect bees.

Packer is a very witty, lucid writer, whose passion for melittology (the study of bees) is unmistakable and quite infectious. His book is far from a depressing, finger-wagging treatise on impending ecological doom. He conforms to the fashion of alternating personal details (in this case, anecdotes from his field work in exotic locales) with factual information, and the bee lore that forms the book’s focus is truly fascinating. Keeping the Bees is an engaging, illuminating read from start to finish.