Bee ex­pert to talk about lis­ten­ing and learn­ing

Mark Win­ston shares ‘lessons from the bees’ Satur­day at Mar­ket Hall

The Peterborough Examiner - - Arts & Life - Drew Monkman is a re­tired Peter­bor­ough teacher and co-author of The Big Book of Na­ture Ac­tiv­i­ties. Reach him at dmonkman1@co­ To see past col­umns and more, visit www.drew­ DREW MONKMAN

The Bee­keeper's La­ment "O bring me palan­quin

All my com­pan­ions have scat­tered"

Renée Saro­jini Sak­likar in Lis­ten­ing to the Bees

Sev­eral years ago, a Let­ter to the Ed­i­tor ap­peared in this pa­per that struck me as par­tic­u­larly poignant. It was from a former Trent Univer­sity stu­dent, Rick Fisher. In the 1980s, he was en­gaged in an in­ten­sive study of bum­ble bee ecol­ogy in the Peter­bor­ough area.

After mov­ing to New Zealand, he re­turned to Peter­bor­ough in 2013 for a sum­mer visit. Rick wrote, "De­spite in­ten­sive searches of all the ar­eas where the bees used to be abun­dant, and de­spite favourable weather, I've found no ev­i­dence to sup­port the ex­is­tence of any of the bum­ble bees that were so com­mon 30 years ago. To me, the woods and glades of beau­ti­ful places like Jack­son Park now fill me with an aching sense of loss, and de­spair. Lit­tle did I know that my the­sis stud­ies would be more epi­taph than ecol­ogy. What have we done?"

Pol­li­na­tion sum­mit

Any­one pay­ing at­ten­tion to the degra­da­tion of our nat­u­ral world is aware by now of the plight of na­tive pol­li­na­tors like bum­ble bees and of colony col­lapse in honey bees. It is a vex­ing prob­lem with no sin­gle cause. It is hap­pen­ing by a thou­sand tiny cuts as a re­sult of habi­tat loss, dis­ease, par­a­sites, cli­mate change and pes­ti­cide use. It is es­ti­mated that one-third of our food items de­pend on pol­li­na­tors. They also play a key role in bio­di­ver­sity, as over 85% of the world's flow­er­ing plants re­quire bees, wasps, flies, bats and even hum­ming­birds for their re­pro­duc­tion. Any or­gan­ism that con­sumes seeds, fruits or veg­eta­bles, is de­pen­dent on the ser­vices pro­vided by pol­li­na­tors. This in­cludes not only hu­man be­ings but count­less other species as well.

No one is more fa­mil­iar with bee de­cline - and the lessons it con­tains for the fu­ture of hu­man so­ci­ety - than Dr. Mark Win­ston, a world bee ex­pert and pro­fes­sor of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences at Simon Fraser Univer­sity. He is also a se­nior fel­low at Simon Fraser's Cen­tre for Dia­logue, which cre­ates a space for "re­spect­ful con­ver­sa­tions be­tween di­verse stakeholders, where mu­tual cu­rios­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tive in­quiry act as alternatives to ad­ver­sar­ial ap­proaches."

As a former direc­tor of the cen­tre, he achieved in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion by cre­at­ing lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents that con­trib­ute to so­cial change in com­mu­ni­ties. Much of his work still in­volves ad­vanc­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and en­gag­ing pub­lic au­di­ences with con­tro­ver­sial is­sues through dia­logue. Ef­fec­tive pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion and hon­est dia­logue are espe­cially im­por­tant right now. Pend­ing de­ci­sions on oil pipe­lines, fos­sil fuel re­source de­vel­op­ment and car­bon taxes threaten the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween econ­omy and en­vi­ron­ment.

This week­end, Mark Win­ston will be the key­note speaker at a Pol­li­na­tor Sum­mit hosted by Peter­bor­ough Pol­li­na­tors. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal non­prof­its, busi­nesses and com­mu­nity mem­bers, the sum­mit will be a two-day cel­e­bra­tion of bees, pol­li­na­tor gar­dens, com­mu­ni­tys­tew­arded ur­ban bee­hives and, maybe most im­por­tantly, of dia­logue. Dr. Win­ston will be speak­ing Satur­day evening at 8 p.m. at Mar­ket Hall. It prom­ises to be a pre­sen­ta­tion rich in sto­ry­telling, con­nect­ing to na­ture and learn­ing what lessons bees have for hu­man­ity. A book sign­ing and a Honey Fair show­cas­ing the prod­ucts of lo­cal honey pro­duc­ers will start at 7 p.m. Tick­ets are $28 ($18 for stu­dents) and can be pur­chased at the door.

On Sun­day, there will be an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to visit some of Peter­bor­ough’s out­stand­ing pol­li­na­tor gar­dens and ur­ban bee­hives. The pub­lic is also in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in a com­mu­nity dia­logue with Win­ston and lo­cal com­mu­nity dia­logue prac­ti­tioner Ben Wolfe. It will take place at Lett Ar­chi­tects on Simcoe Street. This "crosspol­li­na­tion" dia­logue, which is al­most full, will bring to­gether com­mu­nity mem­bers, bee­keep­ers, gar­den­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists. It will ex­plore the ques­tion: How do we em­power cit­i­zens to pro­tect pol­li­na­tors and, in doing so, cre­ate, re­store and cel­e­brate nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments?

For the past three years, Peter­bor­ough Pol­li­na­tors has fo­cused on this very ques­tion. The group has been work­ing to en­cour­age the cre­ation of pol­li­na­tor habi­tat in­clud­ing gar­dens of all sizes through­out the Kawarthas and on ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about the im­por­tance of pol­li­na­tors. Not only do these gar­dens help pol­li­na­tors, but they also bring greater food se­cu­rity, sense of place and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment to our neigh­bour­hoods.


Draw­ing on a three-decade ca­reer re­search­ing killer bees, pol­li­na­tion and honey bee com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Mark Win­ston is an elo­quent and im­pact­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tor of sci­ence to the general pub­lic. He is that rare sci­en­tist who can take com­plex sci­ence and repack­age it some­thing a general au­di­ence can un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a fre­quent guest on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, Win­ston has had a dis­tin­guished ca­reer writ­ing and com­ment­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. His award-win­ning book Na­ture Wars: Peo­ple vs. Pests has been rec­og­nized as the most prob­ing and thought­ful dis­cus­sion of pes­ti­cide use since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Win­ston is also the author of Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, which won a 2015 Gover­nor General’s Lit­er­ary Award.

Most re­cently, Win­ston is the co-author of a new book, Lis­ten­ing to the Bees, with Cana­dian poet Renée Saro­jini Sak­likar. The book is some­thing quite rare - an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the poet and the sci­en­tist. It is a com­pen­dium of Win­ston's re­search, ac­com­pa­nied by Sak­likar's po­ems in­spired by this re­search. Sak­likar, who is best known as the author of "Chil­dren of Air In­dia", has had a life-long in­ter­est in bees. She takes the po­ems in di­rec­tions that con­nect to what the re­search was about and to her own In­dian cul­ture.

Lessons for hu­man­ity

Like us, hon­ey­bees rep­re­sent a pin­na­cle in na­ture of an­i­mal so­cial­ity. How they sub­merge in­di­vid­ual needs into the colony col­lec­tive pro­vides a lens through which to pon­der hu­man so­ci­eties. In Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, Win­ston ex­plains how bees process in­for­ma­tion, struc­ture work and com­mu­ni­cate. He also ex­am­ines how cor­po­rate board­rooms are us­ing bee so­ci­eties as a model to im­prove col­lab­o­ra­tion, how bees have al­tered our un­der­stand­ing of agri­cul­tural ecosys­tems and how ur­ban plan­ners are look­ing to bees in de­sign­ing more na­ture­friendly cities. Bees in­habit a world of chem­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which in­volves more than 40 dif­fer­ent com­pounds. It is a world we nei­ther see nor hear. Win­ston's fo­cus on bee com­mu­ni­ca­tion has made him re­al­ize how poorly we hu­mans com­mu­ni­cate with each other - do we re­ally see and lis­ten? - and how lit­tle we un­der­stand the var­i­ous chan­nels we use.

Bees have other im­por­tant lessons to teach us. For ex­am­ple, a typ­i­cal honey bee colony con­tains residue from more than 100 pes­ti­cides. Taken singly, each is rel­a­tively be­nign, but to­gether their in­ter­play can have se­ri­ous im­pacts. These in­clude re­duc­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of bees' im­mune sys­tems, which leaves them more sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­ease. What's hap­pen­ing to bees as a re­sult of pes­ti­cides is a use­ful lens to con­sider hu­man health. Win­ston be­lieves that the in­ter­ac­tions of pes­ti­cides on bees can be com­pared in some re­spects to the in­ter­ac­tion of pre­scrip­tion drugs on hu­mans. Each, on its own, pro­vides ben­e­fits, but when nu­mer­ous drugs are used to­gether, the in­ter­ac­tion can cause harm­ful side-ef­fects, par­tic­u­larly in pa­tients who are al­ready dis­eased-com­pro­mised.

As hu­man be­ings, we can­not af­ford to ig­nore what the demise of bees tells us about our own ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship with na­ture. There is much to learn from bees in how they re­spond to the many chal­lenges they face. In sus­tain­ing their so­ci­eties, bees teach us ways to sus­tain our own. It is his hope that by com­mu­ni­cat­ing about the glory and the plight of all our pol­li­na­tors, maybe we can make a pos­i­tive difference in their fu­ture - and ours.

Win­ston also has much to say about wild na­tive bees. In a 2014 New York Times ar­ti­cle, he wrote that be­yond honey bees, there are thou­sands of wild bee species that could offer many of the same pol­li­na­tion ser­vices needed for agri­cul­ture. Yet wild bees — that is, bees not kept by bee­keep­ers — are also threat­ened by heavy pes­ti­cide use, by the de­struc­tion of nest­ing sites by overly in­ten­sive agri­cul­ture and by the de­struc­tion of di­verse nec­tar and pollen sources from highly ef­fec­tive weed killers. Win­ston's lab­o­ra­tory at Simon Fraser dis­cov­ered that crop yields, and thus prof­its, are max­i­mized if con­sid­er­able acreages of crop­land are left un­cul­ti­vated to sup­port wild pol­li­na­tors.

"The cur­rent chal­lenges faced by man­aged honey bees and wild bees re­mind us that we can man­age too much. Ex­ces­sive cul­ti­va­tion, chem­i­cal use and habi­tat de­struc­tion even­tu­ally de­stroy the very or­gan­isms that could be our part­ners. There is a les­son in the de­cline of bees about how to re­spond to the most fun­da­men­tal chal­lenges fac­ing con­tem­po­rary hu­man so­ci­eties. We can best meet our own needs if we main­tain a bal­ance with na­ture — a bal­ance that is as im­por­tant to our health and pros­per­ity as it is to the bees."

In a re­cent in­ter­view on the Pol­li­Na­tion Pod­cast from Ore­gon State Univer­sity, Win­ston de­scribes his re­search and sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion as teas­ing around the edges of great mys­ter­ies we'll never fully un­der­stand. "To me bees are un­know­able, and I say that as some­one who has done a lot of re­search... I love that mys­tery. I've felt that mys­tery ever since I opened my first bee hive. As I get older I find my­self rev­el­ling even more in the un­know­able."

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Pol­li­na­tion Sum­mit, please go to pe­ter­bor­ough­pol­li­na­

NOTE: My third and fi­nal ar­ti­cle on Costa Rica will ap­pear next week.


Honey bee nec­tar­ing on gar­lic chives. Mark Win­ston be­lieves that hu­mans have much to learn from bees.


World bee ex­pert Mark Win­ston will speak at Mar­ket Hall on Satur­day.

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