Ontarios Draft - Pollinator Health Action Plan
For Consultation Purposes
Consultation on the Draft Pollinator Health Action Plan was held
January 22, 2016 to March 7, 2016 and is now closed.
Your feedback will be considered by the Ministry of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs when we report back to the public with a
final Action Plan in spring/summer 2016.
Table of Contents
- Letter From the Minister of Agriculture, Food
and Rural Affairs
- Putting the Plan into Action - Partnerships
- Ontario's Pollinator Health Strategy
- Pollinator Health Action Plan - Vision and
- Ontario's Commitment to Pollinator Health
- How to Comment on the Action Plan
Letter From the Minister of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs
As Ontario continues to take a leadership role in the protection
of pollinators, I am pleased to introduce you to Ontario's draft
Pollinator Health Action Plan. As part of the province's broader
Pollinator Health Strategy, this draft Action Plan is designed to
help improve the health of insect pollinators, both managed and
wild, and in turn support a strong, successful agri-food sector
and a healthy environment.
I would like to take this opportunity as Minister of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs, to recognize and thank Ontario farmers for
the steps already taken to help reduce pesticide impacts on pollinators.
This draft plan builds on the changes the agriculture sector has
made - we are now looking to forge partnerships with other groups
and sectors to continue our path forward to improved pollinator
The draft Action Plan proposes actions to address four key stressors
that are known to impact pollinator health. It also identifies current
gaps in our knowledge of managed and wild pollinators, areas where
we want to conduct more research. This draft Action Plan suggests
direction, points for discussion and further development as we move
forward on a path that supports a sustainable food supply, resilient
ecosystems and a strong economy for Ontario.
A collaborative approach is at the core of our efforts to protect
pollinators, and it is our goal to encourage and inspire actions
and ideas from all sectors of society. New partners and private
sector commitments are essential to achieve results and realize
Ontario's potential for improved pollinator health.
I invite you to read Ontario's draft Pollinator Health Action Plan
and share your ideas as we continue to work together toward achieving
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Pollinators are vital to a healthy ecosystem and they play a crucial
role in Ontario's agriculture sector. They provide one of our planet's
most important ecosystem services. Over one third of our diet comes
directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants, and about
80 per cent of wild flowering plant species would not exist without
pollination. Pollinators are essential to our agricultural sector
- managed and wild pollinators contribute $992 million annually
to Ontario's economy. They are also extremely important to biodiversity
- the variety of life on earth - making them critical to the health
of our environment. A robust and resilient pollinator population
means a healthy Ontario for all of us.
The Ontario government in partnership with the public, industry,
academia and private sector are joining forces and working together
to find a solution. Farmers have already taken on a leadership role
in this area. In addition to adapting to the requirements set out
by Ontario Regulation 63/09 under the Pesticides Act to reduce neonicotinoid-treated
corn and soybean seed use, farmers participate in many different
environmental stewardship programs.
Through Growing Forward 2, a federal/provincial funding program,
farmers have accessed cost-share funding to enable farm families
to increase their environmental awareness and identify areas of
environmental concern through developing Environmental Farm Plans
(EFP). Once completed, Growing Forward 2 supports EFP-identified
actions that may support pollinator habitat such as building wind
breaks and planting cover crops.
Another example of farmers taking positive voluntary action to
protect pollinator health is the Species at Risk Farm Incentive
Program (SARFIP), which provides farm businesses with access to
cost-shared funding to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs)
that help protect essential habitats of species at risk, which could
include certain pollinators. This is funded by the Ministry of Natural
Resources and Forestry's Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, and the
Government of Canada as part of the National Conservation Plan through
the federal Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.
The agricultural sector cannot do this alone - this issue requires
all Ontarians to take action. From individuals to community groups
and environmental organizations, it is time for others to step forward
and commit funding, land, time and effort to protect pollinators.
The following draft Pollinator Health Action Plan identifies potential
actions that have been informed through an ongoing consultation
process with key stakeholders and the broader public. Starting in
November 2014, the government released a comprehensive discussion
paper on pollinator health and consulted on a regulatory proposal
to reduce the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in Ontario. The discussion
paper "Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator
Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario"
was posted on the Regulatory and Environmental Registries for 61
days to solicit broad public input. In addition to the posting,
meetings were held with more than 450 participants. Over 50,000
comments were received from a broad range of stakeholders, including
industry (growers, beekeepers and farm associations), academia,
environmental and conservation groups and individuals. Approximately
97 per cent of the comments received were supportive of pollinator
health. It was clear from this engagement that there is strong support
for enhancing the health of pollinators and a variety of actions
were brought forward.
Taking a deeper dive on key issues, the Pollinator Health Action
Plan forum was held with key stakeholders on August 25, 2015 in
Guelph, Ontario. More than 50 attendees, including leaders from
across sectors, participated in the interactive forum which brought
together a range of experts and stakeholders to address issues that
- addressing pollinator health stressors
- improving pollinator health
- leveraging partnership opportunities
- identifying actions needed/next steps
A number of opportunity areas were identified during the forum,
which have been incorporated in the development of the draft Action
The draft plan builds on the feedback heard to date and is a call
to action for all Ontarians to play a key role in enhancing pollinator
health. Our vision is for Ontario to be home to healthy pollinator
populations that contribute to a sustainable food supply and support
resilient ecosystems and a strong economy. Please take the time
to read through this document carefully and provide us with your
suggestions for improving pollinator health - it is the responsibility
of each of us to make a difference.
Many species provide pollination services world-wide, including
a small number of birds and mammals. In Ontario, the majority of
pollinators are insects. Bees are the most specialized insect pollinator
due to a variety of physical traits allowing them to collect and
store pollen. Wild bees come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes,
and colors. Wild bees are also diverse in their requirements, such
as habitat, nesting sites, the types of flowers they visit, and
their season of activity. In Ontario, solitary and social ground
nesters are the most common groups of wild bees. Accordingly, this
draft Action Plan focuses on two main groups of insect pollinators:
wild pollinators, such as bumble bees, butterflies, beetles and
flies, and managed bees, including honey bees and certain species
of bumble bees.
Managed honey bees not only produce honey, they also pollinate
a broad range of crops. They are the most economically valuable
pollinators world-wide, accounting for 80 per cent of global agricultural
crop pollination. Managed honey bees in Ontario visit and pollinate
a broad range of crops including apples, apricots, asparagus, blueberries,
squash, and canola.
In 2015, Ontario had over 2500 registered beekeepers managing a
total of over 100,000 honey bee colonies. In 2015, Ontario Beekeepers
produced an estimated 3,747 tons of honey worth a total of $33.9
million. In addition to honey, beekeepers also produce beeswax products
for retail sales. Perhaps most importantly, horticulture producers
pay beekeepers to have their hives provide "pollination services"
to increase reproduction and yield. Ontario honey bee colonies are
also transported every year to pollinate about $71 million of the
blueberry and cranberry crops in eastern Canada - and the demand
for pollination services continues to rise.
Other species of managed pollinators in North America include bumble
bees, alfalfa leafcutter bees and orchard bees. Bumble bees are
increasingly used in Europe and here in Canada as the primary managed
pollinator for greenhouse tomato and pepper production. They are
now being tested as potential pollinators for cranberries, blueberries
Pollination helps to sustain all organisms in an ecosystem that
depend on resources from flowering plants (e.g. seeds for birds,
shelter provided by flowering trees and shrubs, etc.). While managed
honey bees are perhaps the most well-known pollinator, wild bees
are more effective pollinators on a per bee basis. Some species
of wild pollinators have been found to carry greater quantities
of pollen grains making them more efficient pollinators. Wild pollinators
have been found to forage in cooler conditions than honey bees,
which allows for pollination of plants blooming in early spring
and late fall.
Research has shown that increasing honey bee pollinator efficiency
in agriculture can be accomplished by encouraging or introducing
other wild bee species to an area. The presence of wild bees has
been found to increase the individual pollinating efficiency of
honey bees when compared to an orchard that was pollinated by honey
Previous studies show Ontario as a Canadian biodiversity hotspot
for wild pollinators, with 409 of 809 nationally recorded bee species
being found here - the highest bee diversity of any province. Ontario
is also the last province in which the formerly widespread rusty
patched bumble bee can be found. Unfortunately, the current population
status and diversity of most wild pollinators in Ontario is relatively
unknown. Declines in wild pollinator populations have been documented
in Europe, Asia, Central America, South America, Africa and Australia,
with almost 50 per cent of insect extinctions documented globally
involving flower-visiting species.
Why Action is Important
Throughout the past several years, Ontario beekeepers have experienced
significant honey bee colony losses during both the summer production
season and over winter.
Since 2007, overwintering losses have averaged 35 per cent, reaching
an all-time high of 58 per cent in 2014. Most recently in 2015,
a 38 per cent overwintering loss was recorded. Although this is
a slight improvement over 2014, it is still greater than what is
considered sustainable by the industry, which is 15 per cent annual
overwinter loss. If the trend for over-winter and in-season losses
continues, there is a risk that beekeeping in Ontario will no longer
be economically viable, meaning a significant economic cost not
only to the beekeeping sector, but also to agriculture.
Although information on wild pollinators in Ontario is limited,
trends suggest that pollinator declines are a result of the interacting
impacts of several environmental stressors. Global evidence is showing
climate change is one of the leading causal factors affecting wild
pollinator populations. Habitat fragmentation reduces the size of
pollinator populations by increasing their isolation and transforming
the lands to a less favourable environment.
Potential Causes of Pollinator Declines
Despite the indispensable role that pollinators play, studies show
that pollinators are under increasing stress. The cause is thought
to have several causes or "stressors". These stressors
can be grouped into four broad categories:
- Reduced Habitat and Poor Nutrition
- Diseases, Pests, Genetics
- Exposure to Pesticides
- Extreme Weather and Climate Change
Putting the Plan into Action - Partnerships
The provincial government cannot act alone - establishing proactive,
multi-faceted partnerships with the public, industry, academia and
the private sector is essential to improving and sustaining pollinator
All aspects of the Action Plan have the potential for partnerships.
Research activities are being coordinated among the provincial government
and partners in academic institutions as well as the private sector.
Educational activities, through partnership with various stakeholders,
will promote the adoption and implementation of practices that benefit
pollinators and their habitats, and increase the understanding of
the important role pollinators play in Ontario.
How Change In Urban and Rural Settings Can
Make a Difference
Pollinator health is a concern to everyone and there are a number
of initiatives outside of government that are currently supporting
Pollination Guelph is promoting the protection of pollinators and
their habitat, particularly in urban areas. They do this by creating
pollinator friendly demonstration gardens, landscaping, and a prairie/meadow
habitat in Guelph, while hosting pollinator focused events and providing
education to the public across southern Ontario on the importance
of pollinators and use of native plants in gardens.
Ontario Nature's Youth Council started a campaign to protect pollinators
through the development of posters and videos highlighting pollinator
friendly plants. The Youth Council has also planned and hosted volunteer
events in communities to plant pollinator friendly plants.
Master Gardeners of Ontario have created, in various communities
across the province, public education programs targeting home gardeners
and school groups that speak to the importance of planting native
plants and the impacts of invasive species.
Whether engaging the public to participate in research and monitoring
activities, partnering with municipalities and organizations to
plant pollinator-friendly gardens with local seed or enhancing government-owned
land to increase nutrition options for pollinators, partnerships
are critical to the success of the Action Plan. Every person can
contribute to habitat creation whether through a small container
garden or large backyard garden. These examples build on the many
existing public-private partnerships and support provincial biodiversity
Partnerships in Practice
Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA)
- The OWMA is committed to partnering with the Ontario government
to promote the creation of wildlife habitat at waste management
- In addition to the work several of its members have already
undertaken to support the creation of wildlife habitat, the government
will work with OWMA to identify opportunities to dedicate land
to create pollinator 'zones', and explore opportunities to increase
participation within the sector.
- The Ontario government is working with Pollinator Partnership
to facilitate the development and delivery of education, awareness
and guidance materials for establishing and maintaining pollinator
habitat on a variety of landscapes across Ontario.
- The guidelines will identify how to find opportunities to create
pollinator habitat on public infrastructure holdings, commercial
properties, parks and natural areas, and will be an important
resource for large-scale landowners and managers.
The government will act as a catalyst to help all groups continue
to create partnerships and programs that promote pollinator health.
Communities, non-governmental organizations, industry and farmers
have a common goal, to protect Ontario's pollinators. Farmers are
incredible stewards of the land and can provide pollinator services
to promote increased habitat and nutrition.
Since 2005, Ontario farmers have demonstrated a strong commitment
to the environment, completing more than 23,500 voluntary on-farm
projects. These investments represent a total investment of $353
million in on-farm improvements, including $99 million in federal-provincial
cost-share funding, approximately $26 million leveraged from other
cost-share programs and $228 million of farmers' money.
We challenge all parties, including environmental organizations,
conservation groups, academia, industry, and communities to join
our farmers and be part of the solution by pooling their resources.
We invite organizations from across Ontario to invest in the coming
year to promote environmental stewardship and pollinator health.
OMAFRA will recognize these important investments by all of these
Ontario's Pollinator Health Strategy
In November, 2014, the Ontario government launched the province's
first Pollinator Health Strategy highlighting two aspirational targets:
- To reduce overwinter mortality rates for managed honey bees
to 15 per cent by 2020.
- To achieve an 80 per cent reduction in the number of acres planted
with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017.
During the development of the Strategy, stakeholders, including
the public, provided input to help shape the draft Action Plan.
The first two components of the Strategy - financial support for
the beekeeping sector and a regulation to reduce the use of neonicotinoid-treated
corn and soybean seeds - have been launched.
The Bee Mortality Production Insurance Program
To support a viable beekeeping industry and financially help beekeepers
rebuild after colony losses, Ontario initiated the Beekeeper Financial
Assistance Program (BFAP). The BFAP was a temporary compensation
program launched in response to high bee mortality incidents. In
fall 2015, the province transitioned from BFAP to a permanent, self-sustaining
bee mortality insurance plan to address the need for a longer-term,
actuarially sound program.
Regulation of NNI-Coated Corn and Soybean Seed
On June 9, 2015, amendments to Ontario Regulation 63/09 under the
Pesticides Act were filed. The majority of the amendments came into
effect on July 1, 2015 and they will be fully phased-in over two
growing seasons. The regulation created a new class of pesticides
for corn and soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticide,
and restricted its use to where there is demonstrated need due to
the presence of pests.
Pollinator Health Action Plan
The Action Plan is the third component of the Strategy. By developing
partnerships and initiatives that strengthen pollinator health,
we believe that we will we achieve Ontario's vision to be home to
healthy pollinator populations that contribute to a sustainable
food supply and support resilient ecosystems and a strong economy.
Pollinator Health Action Plan - Vision and
In order to make progress towards achieving our strategic outcomes
and vision, Ontario is taking action to address each of the four
stressors identified as impacting pollinator health, as well as
building on research and monitoring efforts.
Four Stressors Part 1: Reduced Habitat and
Habitat loss is thought to be an important factor contributing
to wild bee declines and most likely all pollinator declines. Pollinators
depend on habitat for food and shelter, and are threatened by its
degradation, fragmentation and loss. Land-use changes alter the
availability and balance of pollinator food sources, such as flowers
providing nectar and pollen, and the availability of nesting sites.
Habitat fragmentation is defined as a patchy distribution of original
habitats, resulting in an overall reduction in habitat size surrounded
by regions of less hospitable or inadequate habitats for pollinators.
Consequently, it reduces the potential sizes of pollinator populations
by increasing their isolation and transforming the landscape into
a new and less favourable environment. Isolated, fragmented habitats
lead to loss of genetic diversity, which in turn increases the chances
of inbreeding and ultimately extinction.
The abrupt change in the ecosystem from habitat destruction results
in reduced diversity and can change the overall composition of pollinator
communities. These changes make it difficult for populations to
In southern Ontario, the availability of pollinator food sources
and nesting sites has been reduced through the conversion of habitat
to intensive farmland and urban/industrial use. While development
and intensification have likely had particularly negative impacts
on wild pollinators, there is evidence of impacts on managed honey
bee populations as well. For example, research has shown that the
quality and diversity of available pollen can affect honey bee physiology
including their ability to cope with disease.
To maintain effective pollination services by both wild and managed
pollinators, managed land should be interspersed with more natural
areas providing pollen sources from flowering trees, plants and
shrubs from early spring to late autumn.
What We've Learned
- Urban landscapes have the potential to host diverse and intact
wild bee communities through the creation and enhancement of residential
gardens, parks and other spaces.
- Mixed and pollen-diverse habitat on farmland in close proximity
to pollinator-dependent crops (e.g. buffer strips and hedgerows
with pollinator-friendly tree species) or within cropped fields
(e.g. wildflower strips) can improve pollination services and
potentially increase yields on certain commodities. These investments
may not require taking productive land out of production.
- The more natural or semi-natural habitat available for managed
honey bees, the more nutritionally diverse food resources are
available to them.
- Managed bees fed low-quality pollen supplements do not live
as long, and are more sensitive to pesticides than bees fed high-quality
- Wild pollinators require a diverse range of nesting sites -
from ground nesting solitary bees to cavity nesting bees and colonies
- Through consultations, people have expressed frustration with
the lack of availability of native plants and seed mixes to support
habitat creation efforts.
Potential Actions by the Province
- The province is leading the efforts to restore, create, protect
and promote pollinator habitat across Ontario through the following
- Building on province-wide efforts to improve natural heritage
and biodiversity conservation, including Ontario's Biodiversity
Strategy, and working to strengthen planning policies around
natural heritage protection and with municipalities to promote
development of robust, well-connected Natural Heritage Systems.
- Consider opportunities to review current Ontario Public
Services (OPS) policies, guidelines and programs with a pollinator
health and habitat restoration and/or enhancement focus. For
example: landfill standards guidelines, planning for Crown
Lands and reviewing the OPS Realty Policy.
- Investigate options on Ministry of Transportation lands
to increase pollinator habitat on lands that could be suitable
to supporting a more pollinator friendly environment.
- Establishing and implementing strategic partnerships with
different levels of government, agencies and industry to enhance
pollinator habitat across Ontario.
- Identifying actions to support and enhance pollinator habitat,
including work to:
- define wild pollinator habitat and appropriate criteria.
- assess land cover data to identify and map probable
- develop options for an aspirational habitat target and
a framework to measure and report progress.
- Implementing outreach initiatives to forge partnerships and
raise awareness and understanding of ways to support Ontario's
- Establishing a central pollinator health webpage for the
government of Ontario.
- Facilitate the development of guidance materials for pollinator
habitat creation for large-scale land managers.
Potential Additional Action Areas
- Integrate pollinator health education into a range of post-secondary
education programs such as landscape design and property management.
- Assess the availability of native Ontario seed mixes.
- Research the relationship between pollinators and at-risk flowering
plants in Ontario.
- Explore opportunities to establish and highlight a "Pollinator
Week" for the province where activities could be launched,
highlighted and reported on to encourage pollinator awareness,
education and action.
- Work with Aboriginal communities to support their involvement
in the stewardship of pollinator habitat.
- Work with Stewardship Network of Ontario to encourage pollinator
habitat conservation on private lands through sharing and exchanging
information (e.g. BMPs) with local stewardship councils.
- Increase public awareness of pollinator health through Ontario
Parks' Natural Heritage Education Program.
- Explore the possibility of launching a provincial "Pollinator
Garden Challenge" to encourage every Ontarian to take steps
to create pollinator-friendly habitat in their own backyards and
Four Stressors Part 2: Diseases, Pests, Genetics
Managed bees and native pollinators suffer from a range of diseases
and pest infestations. The best documented are those that affect
honey bees. However, viruses, fungi and parasites are also known
to infect wild pollinator species. In addition to naturally occurring
diseases and pathogens, in recent years there have been concerns
about pathogens crossing over from managed bumble bee and honey
bee populations to Ontario's wild pollinator populations. Emerging
pests and diseases are considered one of the key risks to pollinators.
Honey bees are genetically selected for a variety of desired traits
including docile behaviour, increased honey production and resistance
to certain pests and diseases. By identifying different genetic
traits, beekeepers may be able to identify traits of interest and
selectively breed bees that are more resilient to pathogens. Researchers
in Ontario have investigated the role of genetics in resistance
to pests and disease with some positive results. Some honey bees,
for example, have been found to be less susceptible to the tracheal
mite. Selecting for mite-resistant honey bees may provide additional
protection against pests and diseases, especially as parasitic bee
mites can develop resistance to established methods of treatment.
According to research, a significant destructive factor influencing
the loss of honey bee colonies over the winter in Ontario is the
parasitic mite, Varroa destructor. Varroa are relatively large external
parasites that feed on the body fluids of adult and developing honey
bees. Among other things, varroa can transmit pathogens, particularly
viruses (e.g. deformed wing virus). Varroa mites have spread from
their original range in Asia to most parts of the world, including
Ontario in the early 1990s. Although almost all honey bee colonies
in North America are now infected with varroa, the main challenge
is the ability of beekeepers to effectively control the severity
While there are treatments that help maintain low levels of varroa
infestation, treatment resistance in some varroa populations is
common. Varroa continue to be a significant challenge for maintaining
honey bee health. As such, mite control is an essential beekeeping
practice for the survival of honey bee colonies. It is therefore
important for us to understand the best ways to control varroa levels
in colonies, while causing minimal harm to the honey bees themselves.
There are other pests and diseases that pose health risks to managed
bees. American foulbrood (a bacterial disease) is one of the most
virulent and contagious honey bee diseases and can destroy colonies
and contaminate beekeeping equipment. Other bacterial diseases,
such as fungi and viruses, are a reoccurring issue faced by beekeepers.
The small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) is an emerging pest in Ontario
although it has not been implicated to date in widespread colony
Researchers are now examining the importance of interactions, not
only between diseases and other environmental stressors (e.g. disease
and nutrition or exposure to pesticides), but also within the stressors
themselves (e.g. varroa infestations with other pathogens) that
affect individual bee health and colony resilience.
What We've Learned
- Through consultations, we've heard that technology transfer
programs with beekeepers increase adoption of BMPs.
- Development of BMPs and integrated pest management strategies
for honey bees requires applied research and data specific to
Ontario. This includes establishing thresholds for treatment and
protocols for monitoring.
- Management of honey bee pests and diseases is critical to addressing
colony losses and to minimizing the spread of pests and pathogens
within and among species.
- Honey bee genetics may play a role in how resilient colonies
are to pest infestations.
- Collecting pest and disease information through apiary inspections
is important to providing a better picture of colony health in
- Early detection of emerging pests and diseases and early development
of strategies is critical to minimizing the initial impact of
honey bee pests.
- There is increasing industry demand for education and training
around beekeeper BMPs and integrated pest management practices.
Potential Actions by the Province
- Partner with industry through education and awareness initiatives
for the implementation of beekeeper BMPs such as targeted efforts
to address high-risk pests and diseases (varroa and small hive
beetle) and to compile and review a standardized suite of BMP
- To support the sustainability of the beekeeping sector in Ontario,
conduct a review of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food
and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) legislation to assess potential for
implementing mandatory training for registered beekeepers, and
implementing traceability requirements for moving colonies using
an appropriate legal mechanism.
- Require BMPs to be followed in order to qualify for funding
assistance programs (e.g. production insurance).
- Enhance monitoring and surveillance efforts of managed bees,
including pest and pathogen presence, and improving biosecurity
protocols to reduce pathogen spread from managed bees to wild
- Provide information for beekeepers on integrated pest management
- Network with researchers and governments in other jurisdictions
on pollinator health issues.
- Strengthen honey bee genetics through supporting the "Ontario
Resistant Honey Bee Selections Program" which provides access
to genetically selected honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.
- Continue to work to improve honey bee disease management, including
- Pest Management Regulatory Agency to approve new treatments
- National Bee Health Roundtable to coordinate varroa management
- Ontario Beekeepers' Association to collect baseline data
on the prevalence of honey bee pests and diseases, and to
implement a multi-faceted Small Hive Beetle Strategy.
Potential Additional Action Areas
- Strengthen beekeeper management practices and education by:
- Partnering with stakeholders to address high risk pests
and diseases (e.g. varroa mite, small hive beetle) by expanding
technology transfer efforts through on-line and train-the-trainer
- Compiling and updating a suite of standardized, peer-reviewed
BMP resources for beekeepers.
Four Stressors Part 3: Exposure to Pesticides
The term "pesticide" refers to a broad category of products
that are specifically designed to control a pest. A pesticide can
control a fungus, a weed or an insect pest. The category of pesticide
that typically poses the greatest potential risk for both wild and
managed bees is insecticides. While pesticides are intended to control
insect pests, they can also harm beneficial insects like bees.
In Ontario, the use of pesticides in agriculture has changed over
the past few decades. There has been more emphasis on reducing the
risks to human health and the environment and improving education
efforts on how to use pesticides safely and properly. Additionally
there have been increased efforts to move towards reduced risk pesticides
that tend to be more targeted in the pests that they control and;
therefore, not as broad spectrum as the pesticides used in the past.
Neonicotinoid pesticides, commonly used as a systemic seed treatment,
have been the topic of much attention and debate in the context
of pollinator health. They are widely used in agriculture around
the world and have been used in Ontario since the mid-1990s.
However, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that some
neonicotinoids are highly toxic to honey bees and other insect pollinators.
Impacts that have been reported include reduced longevity of adult
bees, impaired foraging and navigational abilities, impaired learning
and memory performance, reduced tolerance to pathogens and reduced
colony development and reproduction. In addition, there have been
a number of documented incidents in field conditions where honey
bees have been both suspected and confirmed to be impacted by the
use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds.
In March 2015, a draft regulation was posted to the Environmental
and Regulatory Registries that would restrict the use of neonicotinoid-treated
corn and soybean seed to those acres where there is a demonstrated
need. The regulation created a new class of pesticides for corn
and soybean seeds treated with the neonicotinoids: imidacloprid,
thiamethoxam and clothianidin, and rules for their sale and use.
In July 2015, Ontario became the first North American jurisdiction
to legislate restrictions that apply to neonicotinoid-treated corn
and soybean seeds, under the Pesticides Act. In addition, farmers
have taken an active role to support pollinator health by implementing
the Pest Management Regulatory Agency's interim mandatory protective
measures for corn and soybean production. This includes using dust-reducing
seed flow lubricants, implementing new packaging standards and making
costly changes to planting equipment by installing deflectors.
In an effort to enhance our understanding of Class 12 pesticides,
the Ontario government is monitoring activities related to the regulation
including pollen monitoring studies, a land-use study using satellite
imagery, laboratory toxicity testing to understand the potential
impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides on non-target aquatic life and
monitoring pesticide residue levels in water and soil.
In addition to pesticides used to protect field crops, pesticide
exposure occurs when beekeepers apply products directly to their
hives to control parasitic mites, fungal and bacterial infections.
To date, there has been research on the effects of pest and pathogen
treatments, including natural products such as essential oils, on
honey bee health. Continued research into beekeeping management
systems, chemical controls and the effect on pollinators is essential
component of an integrated pest management framework.
What We've Learned
- Farmers have already made, and continue to make, significant
contributions to support pollinator health. While voluntary progress
in pesticide reduction and habitat creation on agricultural lands
continues, new efforts and expectations should be balanced across
all sectors in Ontario.
- Beekeeper use of insecticides and fungicides within hives to
treat pests such as mites can negatively affect the bees themselves
under some circumstances. Continued efforts to enhance and improve
BMPs for beekeepers would ensure appropriate use of these products.
- Monitoring of neonicotinoids in the environment would help to
establish baseline data so future trends can be analyzed.
Potential Actions by the Province
- Increase education and outreach activities to stakeholder groups
on BMPs and integrated pest management to support the implementation
of Ontario Regulation 63/09 under the Pesticides Act.
- Support integrated pest management training for growers.
- Enhance sector outreach to support beekeeper education around
the use of appropriate pest treatments in-hive.
- Continue to work with industry to support agricultural production
and land stewardship practices that reduce pollinator pesticides
- Explore opportunities to facilitate completion and launch of
an e-tool to alert pesticide applicators of nearby beehives for
the purpose of reducing bee exposures.
- Provide financial support for producers to acquire dust deflectors
for planting equipment through the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship
- Enhance provincial monitoring efforts to track changes in agricultural
practices stemming from the implementation of Ontario Regulation
- Monitor neonicotinoid concentrations in the environment.
Potential Additional Action Areas
- Profile and highlight BMPs for pesticide use in agriculture.
- Improve beekeeper education on the effectiveness of honey bee
- Support research in selective breeding strategies for honey
bees resistant to pests and diseases.
Four Stressors Part 4: Climate Change and
The Earth's climate is changing. Globally, there is evidence of
increasing air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow
and ice and rising sea levels. In Canada, we are already seeing
rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns and increases in
certain types of hazardous weather such as heat waves. Recent studies
have shown that wild pollinators are highly vulnerable to climate
Although precise impacts can be difficult to predict, climate change
could contribute to pollinator declines by modifying the balance
between bees and their environment, including exposure and susceptibility
to diseases. There is evidence of climate change causing earlier
spring thaws which have resulted in many plants flowering sooner
than usual. Consequently, pollinator species could undergo population
declines if plants bloom at times when pollinators are dormant.
Pollinators also require continuous availability of food resources,
and shifts in key seasonal changes such as flowering time and emergence
of insects, could lead to gaps in the succession of flowers causing
a lack of food for longer-lived pollinators or colonies.
The geographic ranges of pollinators are also shifting as temperatures
increase. Bees that thrive in tropical environments are predicted
to expand their ranges, whereas bees that thrive in narrow-ranged
temperate climates will likely experience range reductions and are
at risk for population decline.
In addition to the gradual increase in temperature, climate change
causes more frequent extreme weather events like storms, floods,
heat waves and droughts. Extreme weather fluctuations can have severe
impacts on pollinators already stressed by climate change. Less
mobile pollinators, such as small beetles and ground nesting bees,
may be the most seriously impacted by events such as flooding. Extreme
weather can kill individual insects, but can also negatively impact
entire colonies or local populations by interrupting foraging and
mating and lowering individual and colony success.
An example of extreme weather in Ontario was the record-breaking
early spring thaw in 2012. The 2012 thaw, caused by much warmer
than normal seasonal temperatures, significantly impacted Ontario
ecosystems. There were reports of fruit trees that bloomed five
weeks ahead of schedule and were then extensively damaged by the
frost that hit Ontario in late April of that year. The flash freeze
wiped out about 80 per cent of Ontario's apple blossoms and resulted
in less than half of the expected the yields for tender fruit growers.
The intense heat, then cold, combined with infrequent food supply
for pollinators, illustrates how climate change can put intense
pressure on pollinators and lead to serious pollinator health issues
Honey bees originally evolved in warm climates in the Asian tropics.
Sub-populations in Northern Europe adapted to withstand colder winters
like those in temperate regions of North America and Europe. Despite
the ability of honey bees to store winter food reserves and thermoregulate
in tight clusters, long or extremely cold winters can result in
colony death, especially when combined with other factors.
Long and harsh winters only account for some of Ontario's honey
bee colony losses. The overall patterns of colony loss may be due
to interactions between a range of factors, including pests, pathogens
and diseases and management practices. Climate change may shift
the balance between the honey bee, its plant environment and its
What We've Learned
- In consultations, we heard that stakeholders think existing
initiatives around climate change (such as the provincial government's
Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan) should support pollinator
- For managed honey bees, implementing over-winter BMPs can improve
colony chances of surviving harsh winters.
- Actions to improve habitat and resilience of bees will help
to mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
Potential Actions by the Province
- As part of Ontario's Climate Change Strategy, and forthcoming
five-year Climate Change Action Plan to be released in 2016, the
government will explore opportunities to align climate change
objectives with agriculture and the natural system to support
pollinator health. By building on existing measures such as: managing
and restoring wetlands and forests; increasing green spaces that
provide habitat for pollinators; and promoting BMPs that can help
both wild and managed pollinators survive gradual changes in climate
and extreme weather events, the province will take action to reduce
the vulnerabilities and strengthen the resilience of natural systems
Potential Additional Action Areas
- Investigate and promote BMPs that can help honey bees survive
harsh winters and extreme weather events.
- Conduct climate change vulnerability assessments for select
wild pollinator species.
Research and Monitoring
Pollinator health is complex, and knowledge gaps remain regarding
how these stressors interact. Current research tells us that the
health of pollinators needs to be improved, and that populations
of certain species are declining. Yet in Ontario, the current population
status of most wild pollinators is relatively unknown. Researchers
have identified gaps in current knowledge of pollinators and pollinator
declines, and have prioritized research efforts that are needed
to close the gaps.
To help fill these gaps and build on knowledge, the Ontario government
will continue to align and leverage existing research programs.
In addition, robust monitoring programs will be established to track
and measure how the Action Plan is making a difference. Through
this adaptive management approach, we will continue to learn and
incorporate new findings.
The Ontario government will prioritize and fund research projects
that improve our knowledge of the key stressors influencing pollinator
health and support research to understand, prevent and recover from
pollinator losses. Research and monitoring will provide ongoing
evidence to support the Action Plan's implementation and allow us
to adapt our efforts over time.
What We're Doing
- Monitoring bumble bee species diversity and tracking population
levels over time in southwestern Ontario.
- Monitoring honey bee populations, disease and conditions through
the Apiary Inspection Program.
- Continuing to align and leverage existing research programs
such as the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs-University
of Guelph Partnership Agreement and OMAFRA's open research programs.
Potential Action Areas
- Launch a special "Call for Proposals" to fund new
pollinator health research projects to fill knowledge gaps for
example, understanding how varroa infestations interact with other
stressors, studying implications of climate change for Ontario's
pollinators and assessing the effectiveness of various land management
- Enhance honey bee monitoring to better track and establish baselines
for beekeeper BMPs, pests and disease prevalence, health status
and colony losses.
Ontario's Commitment to Pollinator Health
The Ontario government is committed to improving pollinator health
and reversing population declines through the work related to the
Action Plan and other projects. Several initiatives and partnerships
are at the forefront of these efforts, including public and stakeholder
Ontario Bee Health Working Group
The Ontario Bee Health Working Group was formed in 2013 and was
represented by a broad range of stakeholders including federal and
provincial government, industry, scientists, farmers and beekeepers.
The Group's final report outlined 13 options - many of which have
since been implemented to mitigate declining honey bee populations.
National Bee Health Round Table
The Ontario government participates on the National Bee Health
Round Table, established by the federal government in partnership
with industry in March 2014, with the goal to provide national coordination
on bee health. In December 2014, the National Bee Health Action
Plan was launched to help facilitate the continued growth of a healthy,
innovative and profitable apiculture sector across Canada. The National
Bee Health Roundtable is a key partner in Ontario's efforts to protect
pollinators. Initiatives through the Roundtable will be leveraged
through the Action Plan.
Pollinators are vital to a healthy ecosystem and they play a crucial
role in Ontario's agriculture sector. By working together as partners
and contributors, we can take actions that will support Ontario's
pollinator populations and the ecosystem services they provide.
The draft Action Plan is your opportunity to play an active role
in this important process at a critical time. Your comments and
ideas will help us finalize the Action Plan and implement the steps
needed to ensure robust and healthy pollinator populations.
We have already begun work on several parts of the draft Action
Plan. Ongoing public input and adapting our strategies based on
that input will be essential to achieving our goals. We will be
keeping our partners and the public informed on the progress of
the draft Action Plan, including reporting on our aspirational targets.
The draft Action Plan identifies many opportunities for engaging
Ontarians of all ages in our efforts to help pollinators. From individuals,
to schools, community groups and businesses - everyone has an important
role to play. By working together we can collectively take steps
to reverse pollinator losses and improve pollinator health across
Ontario. Pollinators belong to all of us; we are all accountable
for their protection.
How to Comment on the Action Plan
We want to hear about what your organization does to help pollinators.
Let us know by emailing email@example.com
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