Habitat Loss is a Major Factor in the Decline of Bee Populations

Several factors — including land development, pesticide use, and the installation of invasive and genetically modified plants — are destroying essential food, shelter, and nesting sites for bees.

As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, lawns, non-native gardens, and industrially managed crops, 95% of the natural world in the U.S. has become unnatural, according to Doug Tallamy, author and professor of Entomology and Wildlife Conservation at the University of Delaware. This negatively impacts the countless species who have evolved to rely on regional ecosystems.

A safe habitat provides bees with the resources they need to survive, including abundant pollen and nectar sources, nesting sites, and shelter. Native plants are particularly important, as many native bee species have coevolved to feed exclusively on locally 

native blooms that have adapted to the climate, soil, light, and water conditions in a region.

Particularly vulnerable are 75% of the world’s 20,000+ bee species, who live a solitary (versus colony) lifestyle. With a foraging range of 300 meters or less, these bees can’t survive and reproduce if food and shelter is not nearby.

To address habitat loss, The Bee Conservancy cultivates and deploys a range of habitat strategies and educational programs throughout our community and partner networks. By providing diverse and healthy habitats for bees at any scale, we can all support bee populations and promote their long-term survival.

Curbing Neonic Pesticides

with the Natural Resources Defense Council

Widespread pesticide use degrades habitat by harming flowering plants and poisoning pollinators. Bees are exposed to pesticides — insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides — through direct contact with spray residue on plants, through contaminated pollen and nectar, or through exposure to contaminated nesting sites or materials.

TBC advocates for going pesticide-free to ensure your habitat is not toxic to pollinators. (Read below for gardening tips!)

Because change must happen at the top tiers of infrastructure, TBC was been a key advocate and lobbyist leading up to the December 2023 passage of New York State’s new Birds and Bees Protection Act, which curbs use of neurotoxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides that disproportionately harm New York’s animals (including humans), soil, and water.

TBC partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in addition to writing OpEds for the New York Daily News and AMNY, meeting with legislators, drafting letters, and providing testimony before the NY State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee to advocate for the Birds and Bees Protection Act.

TBC partnered with the NRDC and the Citizens Campaign for the Environment to create a video about the negative impact of neonic pesticides.

Creating a Pollinator Corridor

with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

In 2022, The Bee Conservancy installed native bee houses and provided a native plant strategy for Liberty Park at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

Inspired by this work, and with support from The New York Community Trust, TBC and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) have embarked on an ambitious goal of implementing new planting and maintenance strategies to build perennial, self-sustaining pollinator corridors where bees, monarch butterflies, and other at-risk species can thrive.

In 2023, we began a multi-year partnership to establish new pollinator friendly habitat and management practices at the following sites: Brooklyn Marine Terminal, Howland Hook Marine Terminal/Port Ivory, Staten Island Bridges, Port Newark, and Port Jersey.

Based on data collected through monitoring, we will better understand and track pollinator abundance and diversity in these spaces, and learn how new management and planting strategies impact them. This data will inform our second-year strategy for the holistic and scalable development of sustainable, pollinator corridors across PANYNJ sites, and the development of resources that promote habitat in urban, industrialized spaces.

Easy Ways to Help Build Bee Habitat

Even the smallest green space can provide food and safe haven for pollinators. Whether you’re gardening in a window box, garden bed, or across wide acres of land, taking the following steps will help improve the habitat for bees.

1. Feed the Bees

Choose nectar- and pollen-rich flowers with a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and bloom times. Seek out locally native plants as often as possible, as they have evolved regionally and are well adapted to the climate, soil, light, and water conditions in that area. Many native bee species have coevolved to feed exclusively on native flowers and need them to survive.

2. Skip the Mulch

70% of the world’s bees — including bumblebees — live underground and need bare, mulch-free, well-drained, protected soil in a sunny area to create and access their nests. If mulching is absolutely necessary, use compost or leaves instead of wood, bark, or other bulky materials, and keep mulch layers thin — no more than half an inch.

3. Leave Stems Behind

Don’t cut stems to the ground after blooms expire. Instead, strategically trim them so that cavity-nesting bees can move in and lay eggs. Leave spent flowers up through the fall and winter so migrating birds can feed on seeds. Then, in spring, trim stems at heights ranging from 8 to 24 inches high to provide homes for species such as mason bees.

 4. Say No to Pesticides

The best way to avoid pest issues is to have healthy, resilient plants, which is why we recommend planting native species, which are best suited to thrive in the sun, water, and soil of a local ecosystem. If you must use a pesticide, choose a targeted organic product, and always avoid applying pesticides when flowers are blooming or directly to the soil.

Free Pollinator Habitat Resources

  1. Find keystone native plants in your ecoregion. (National Wildlife Federation)
  2. Explore pollinator planting guides by ecoregion. (Pollinator Partnership)
  3. The organic pesticide report and pest management practices. (Xerxes Society)
  4. Shrubs and trees for pollinators. (Heather Holms)
  5. Additional habitat and gardening resources. (Pollinator Friendly Alliance)