August 11, 2011
Dr. Beatriz Moisset, coauthor of Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees recently granted me an email interview to talk about the background of the book. I hope this gives you a better idea of what the book is about, and encourages you to download it online, or order a printed (shiny paper!) copy from the Pollinator Partnership! Learn about native bees- it’s the fun thing to do!
Athena (ARA): What prompted you to work on Bee Basics? Why a co-authorship with Dr. Stephen Buchmann?
Dr. Moisset (DM): I had published a number of “Pollinator of the month” articles for the Forestry Service site “Celebrating wildflowers.” As a consequence I was approached by the Pollinator Partnership and the Forestry Service (the publishers of “Bee Basics”) with a request to write a booklet about bees for the general public. I accepted and after I submitted the piece, they showed it to Steve for review. He became increasingly involved with the project so it made sense to make him co-author. With all his expertise in the subject, who could be a better co-author?
ARA: How long did it take from start to publication?
DM: I wrote the commissioned work in about three months. The reviews, graphics, designing and producing the booklet, including the marvelous illustrations by Steve Buchanan, took almost eighteen months. The first edition was published in October 2010, but there were a number of problems, mostly typos. So a second edition (the one that is also published in PDF form in the Internet) came out a few months later after thorough editing. So, probably, it would be more correct to say that it took a little more than 2 years from start to final publication.
ARA: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
DM: The guidelines for “The Little book of Bees” specified that it was “for those who know nothing about bees” and it should be “written in common language” that had to be interesting and would invite to know more. So, the challenge was to engage the readers without overwhelming them with technical language. At the same time it was important to avoid dumbing it down. For instance, when I say that “bees are found from Canada and Alaska to warm and sunny Florida, from remote wildernesses to your own backyard . . .” I trust the intelligence of the general reader to grasp the idea that bees have a wide geographic distribution and live in a variety of habitats; then I don’t need to use those terms. I tested some of the pieces on neighbors and friends and was satisfied to see that they understood them and found them interesting although they know nothing about bees.
ARA: What has been most rewarding for you about working on/ having the book published?
DM: Two things: the book has been well received and this is very pleasing; I never faced a writing project larger than a scientific paper or an article before and I value this new experience.
ARA: Why do you think it has taken until 2011 for a beginner-friendly guide to native bees to be published?
DM: It is amazing how many people, even those who know and love flowers, remain completely unaware of their basic role: to attract pollinators. That ignorance or indifference still continues in most quarters. So far the only thing that moves the average person to stand up and take notice of bees is the highly publicized matter of the honey bee’s colony collapse syndrome. Even then, this raises very little awareness or interest for native bees. I still have to start my pollinators’ presentations by explaining that there are 4,000 species of native bees and that the honey bee is not native. More often than not, I have to repeat these words a couple of times to allow them to sink in. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that it has taken so long.
ARA: What do you think has prompted the recent increase in the public’s interest in pollinators generally, and native bees specifically?
DM: As I just mentioned it is largely because of the news about colony collapse syndrome. The realization of the importance of honey bees in agriculture is raising some awareness about the role of pollinators. However, most people continue to think of honey bees as the only pollinators. It is only those ecologically minded that are beginning to take an interest in native bees and other pollinators. We still have a long way to go.
ARA: What would you tell the public are the biggest threats to native bees?
DM: The use of pesticides is probably the number one threat. Loss of habitat is also very significant. Ironically, the introduction of honey bees and the importation of bumble bees and a couple of other commercially used bees pose threats to a number of native species. Growing non-native plants doesn’t help native pollinators either.
ARA: What are 2-3 things people could do to help conserve native bees in their lives and communities, and on their property?
DM: I would strongly recommend two things: planting native plants in their gardens and avoiding pesticides (including herbicides). It also helps to provide housing, such as bee blocks, the right soil conditions, brush piles, dead logs. Nowadays there are a number of websites with instructions on how to build bee houses and there are several sellers of bee houses. All what it takes is a couple of mouse clicks to find them; they are also listed in “Bee Basics”. People could carry this message to township councils, golf clubs, condominiums, business and college campuses that they belong to. Those more interested in activism could take these ideas to the management of utilities right of way, roadsides, landfills and abandoned areas.
ARA: Anything else to add?
DM: The Little Book of Bees (as it was originally called) was not intended as an identification guide, but as an introduction to our native bees. The obvious next step would be to write a field guide to bees or to pollinators; something similar to “Pollinators of the Sonoran Desert” by Nina Chambers and others. The need for such a field guide is growing; I know that several experts on these subjects lead “bee walks” or “pollinator walks.” I myself have done that several times at local nature centers. With that in mind I have been writing, in blog form, a number of entries about pollinators and other flower visitors that may serve as a first draft for such a guide.
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