This Week in STEM: Soil & Bees

This Week in STEM: Soil & Bees

Blog Contributed by Dr. Christopher Murphy, Chief Strategic Growth & Communications Officer

(Title image credits: Getty Images & World Wildlife Fund)

This Week in STEM, we dig into the dirty and lesser known qualities of soil, and we remind ourselves how important North America’s 4,000 species of bees are to our global well-being.


Dishing the Dirt on the Secret Life of Soil

On December 5, we celebrated #WorldSoilDay. Granted, if you look hard enough on social media, you can find just about anything to celebrate on any given day. We may curse it when the kids track it into the house, and it’s easy to overlook the value of soil, but let’s give credit where credit is due…

“Soil is a lot more than just dirt. It’s a living breathing ecosystem that’s home to a quarter of all species on Earth,” as noted by the World Wildlife Fund.  “That richness of life is that supports forests and prairies; biodiversity in the soil also enhances agriculture. Many underground organizsms process the nutrients that allow plants to flourish above ground. They also protect plants from disease, help soil store more water, make nitrogen and other key elements more readily accessible, and enable plants to communicate with each other. They even help fight climate change by pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and turning them into food and oxygen.”

“Yet agriculture, which needs soil, is the leading cause of its erosion. Indeed, healthy soil is disappearing from the surface of the earth at a rate of about 24 billion tons a year.”

Bees Get Stung by Decision to Scale Back National Monument

One year after President Trump’s proclamation to halve the size of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, “new research shows at least 80 species could be harmed. And that’s just the bees.”

As the National Monument was shrunk by 870,000 acres, commercial, industrial, and residential developments have been free to move in to the Utah wilderness, bringing with it the infrastructure and habitat loss that will affect the ecosystem. While difficult to predict, changes within the ecosystem will force species to adapt (or not) to the changing conditions.

There are over 4,000 known species of native North American bees whose services are worth an estimated $3 billion dollars per year to the US economy. 7 species of native Hawaiian bee species were designated as endangered species in 2016, and last year, the bumble bee became the first bee species to receive such status in the continental US.

The scariest part is that researchers “don’t really know what would happen if bees disappeared.” The level of uncertainty towards a group of species that has such an impact on our global well-being and economy is highly concerning.

Learn more on how you can help support the future of bees.