It seems that the influx of hemp across America isn’t just relieving CBD customers, but bee populations struggling with habitat loss, too.
Published in Environmental Entomology, a recent study has found that thousands of bees are now using hemp plants as critical nutritional resources. Given the loss of bee habitats across the US, the researchers believe the cannabis crop could become vital to the insects’ future survival.
Hemp has bloomed across the US in the last two years. According to some estimates, the total number of acres used for cultivation has jumped up by a whopping 328 percent since 2018, when the 2018 Farm Bill recognized hemp as a legal product.
And it now appears this floral revolution isn’t just impacting surrounding species but benefiting them, too.
In their study, researchers from Cornell University observed hundreds of bees collecting pollen (a vital subsistence resource) from male hemp plants. After sampling 355 bees from 11 hemp farms in central state New York, the group found that the cannabis crop was supporting 16 different species of bee.
The height of the hemp plants was a particularly strong factor in enticing the insects. Tall crops attracted nearly 17 times the number of visits compared to short plants, and supported more bee species.
From hive to hemp
The bond between bees and hemp has been studied before. Back in 1983, researchers found seven species living off cannabis crops on the University of Mississippi campus.
But the new study is one of the first to highlight how hemp could act as a refuge crop for the insects, which have been declining in population numbers for years.
“Hemp, a newly introduced and rapidly expanding crop in US agricultural landscapes, offers an abundance of pollen resources to bees during a period of floral resource scarcity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers wrote.
What effect could this cannabis appetite have on the country’s bee populations? Well, not the intoxicating one it seems. The researchers note that THC and other cannabinoids are unlikely to affect bee developments, as the insects don’t posses cannabinoid receptors.
Instead, the crop’s main bee-benefit lies in its pollen, which is why the researchers are now urging all those involved in hemp production to care for their newfound bee visitors, and avoid the pest control measures that could harm their populations.
“Growers, extension agents and policy makers should consider risks to bees as pest management practices are developed for this crop,” they wrote in their conclusion.