Apart from pollinating most of our crops and creating honey, bees provide us with great things - even their venom is used in Parkinson’s medications - so their presence is absolutely essential. You can find the urban beehives in some of the most crowded areas of the world, like at the top of the Opéra Bastille, for example. Thousands of visitors visit this landmark everyday, but even more thousands of bees live on the rooftop, about 50,000 to be exact. Other groups, like The Honeybee Conservancy are striving to make more of these bee friendly areas throughout communities in Detroit, Central Park, and Madison Square Park - areas that highly concentrated with humans but are still bee-friendly.
Despite having a place to breed and make honey, how are these city bees actually doing in these urban landscapes? Actually, better than you may have thought. The species are more diverse in cityscapes, their diets are varied, and ultimately, bees in these environments fare better than countryside bees. In fact, it’s not just “simply that bumblebees make a flying visit to urban locations, but that populations are stronger there” said Ash Samuelson, a PhD student at the University of London.
She conducted a study in 2018 to explicitly study this phenomenon by placing bees that were originally from the same colony into 38 environmentally different sample sites: five agricultural sites, 16 village sites, and 17 city sites. The bees who were in the village and city settings produced a larger amount of worker bees and females that would become queen bees than those in agricultural settings. Additionally, they were not faced with lethal pesticides like the countryside bees. Because we, like bees, like to have flowers in out living spaces, more are available for bees to pollinate, whereas in fields, the flowering period is brief and infrequent. Ash’s team and her were able to definitively conclude that bumblebees fare much better in urban areas than in rural areas.
So bees live better when they’re closer to us, but how do we benefit from them? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “More than three-quarters of the world's food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals.” So we get food. And in more direct terms, we get more honey from city bees than from countryside bees, about five pounds (2.27 kg) more every year.
If you’re interested in joining the urban beekeeping movement, check out these organizations across the world who strive to keep the bees strong: UrbanBeeNetwork, BeeOneThird, and as mentioned above, The Honeybee Conservancy. They’re happy to welcome new members who want to #SaveTheBees!
You can dive deeper into this theme by exploring our bee-related publications and patents!