Importance of Native Bee Diversity: How to Help Save the ‘Right’ Bees

A native small metallic sweat bee (Lasioglossum sp.) on a white-eyed ice plant (Delosperma basuticum), found in the Alpine Garden.

About the author: Terrell Roulston is a community ecologist, and pollinator expert. He recently completed his Masters of Science in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC, where he worked on untangling how honey bees (Apis mellifera) change the functioning of plant and pollinator communities using pollination networks. Terrell joined UBC Botanical Garden’s Sustainability and Community Programming in February 2024 and has been helping to increase awareness about the importance of native bee diversity. 

The Honey Bee Myth

People are naturally fascinated by bees, due to their cultural significance and mutualistic relationship with flowering plants. Regrettably, to most people the word ‘bee’ is synonymous with the non-native domesticated Westen honey bee (Apis mellifera). The honey bee is infamous for the tasty honey it produces (which native bees do not), as well as their importance in agricultural production. However, most people simply do not know about the 20,000 species of bees around the world. In Canada, there are more bee species at approximately 800, than there are bird species (~450). And in British Columbia, across the province there are close to 500 species. 

Many people believe that honey bees (‘bees’) are in decline, however globally the number of honey bee hives has never been higher – with a 2017 estimate at 91 million managed colonies. Some quick back of the envelope math, at 20,000 honey bees per colony, the total number of honey bees worldwide works out to over two trillion! Tragically, the same cannot be said for native bee species which along with most insects are experiencing rapid declines due to a combination of factors such as: habitat loss, pesticide use, parasites and pathogens, invasive species, and climate change. 

Biodiversity Days and Native Bee Brochure 

Bees of UBC Botanical Garden: Information of 16 species found at the Garden included in the bee brochure.

To celebrate the United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22nd), UBCBG hosts Biodiversity Days, a month long program during the month of May to help raise awareness of the fragile species, genes and ecosystems that sustain our communities. In my mind the importance of native bees in supporting native plant diversity, and therefore a cascade of other biodiversity such as birds, cannot be understated. For me, as a bee expert it is my mission to educate others and reclaim the word ‘bee’ to mean a diversity of bee species.  

This spring, I have created a new Bee Brochure for the Garden to highlight the amazing diversity and importance of native bee species that the public may see in the Garden. The brochure contains information on 16 species of the approximately 100-150 bee species found at UBCBG (see image above). In addition, it also contains facts about native bees including their importance for pollination, biodiversity, and agriculture.  

Along with the brochure, I am also very pleased to be hosting a bee walk in the garden, as part of Biodiversity Days. Having worked at this event alongside Dr. Matt Mitchell for several years, I know it is a great opportunity to connect children and adults with native bee diversity. Many are amazed at the beauty and diversity of our native bees.  

Take Action: How You Can Help Native Bees 

So how can you help save the ‘right’ bees? First and foremost, if your goal is bee conservation, then getting a honey bee hive is the last thing you should do. Getting a honey bee hive to help save bees is a lot like getting chickens to help bird conservation.  

There are however several ways that you can help steward native bee species. The number one threat to native bee species is habitat loss. And below I provide five tips on how you can help native bees by providing habitat in your garden! 

  1. The most important thing you can do is plant flowers, shrubs and trees that support pollinators. Prioritize native species, as they are best adapted to local environments, and have co-evolved over millennia with native bees and other native animals. Make sure to select flowers that have overlapping bloom periods, from spring (March and April) through the summer to fall (September and October).  
    • Terrell’s top native BC plants for bees.  These are my favourite plants due to not only being an incredible source of nutrients for bees, but also due to their beauty and similarity to other non-native garden plants you may already have in your garden. 
      • Flowers: sea blush (Plectritis congesta; annual), Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis; perennial), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea; perennial). 
      • Shrubs: Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana), salmon berry (Rubus spectabilis), and evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). 
      • Trees: Pacific crab apple (Malus fusca), shinning willow (Salix lucida), and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). 
  2. Did you know that being a lazy gardener in the spring and fall is helpful for bees and other ground nesting insects? “Leave the leaves” to help solitary ground nesting bees (which make up 70% of all bee species) survive the cold winters. Wait until air temperatures are consistently reaching above 10° C before removing leaves from your garden beds. 
  3. On a similar note, you can also help other ‘tunnel’ (a.k.a. cavity) nesting bees by saving piles of dead stems from trimmings. Many native bee species will nest inside these hollow-pithy stems or will lay their young inside them to overwinter. Similarly, you can also consider building a ‘bee-hotel’ by drilling holes into blocks of wood (or many other designs exist). Remember to clean these bee hotels annually to prevent disease spreading between nesting generations.  
  4. Provide a safe spot for bees to get a drink of water. Just like me and you bees can get thirsty, especially while doing all their foraging. Providing a shallow bowl filled with a few rocks to offer a landing platform is all you need. Beware of gimmick plastic bee watering stations.  
  5. Stop all use of pesticides in your garden. Although pesticides can sometimes be helpful for keeping lawns and gardens looking aesthetic, they pose serious threats to native bees and other pollinators. Pesticides like roundup (glyphosate) and neonicotinoids can not only kill bees, but they can also remain systemic in the soil and affect the development of future generations of ground nesting bees.

To celebrate this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity, I invite you to go out and discover the world of native bee species. Finally, spread the word on how honey bees are the wrong bees to be concerned about saving. 

Submitted by: Terrell Roulston, Ecological Sustainability Research Assistant

6 responses to “Importance of Native Bee Diversity: How to Help Save the ‘Right’ Bees”

  1. Ian

    As a beekeeper I really appreciate this article and the tone you strike in it. The amount of times I get /thanked/ for the honeybees I keep makes me extremely worried about what the whole “save the (honey)bees!” narrative (and the counter narrative of “keeping honeybees is bad!”) is doing to public understanding of the big picture. You focus on the big picture: the importance of gardening to support biodiversity as a primary ethic.

  2. Louise Sirrs

    This article is fabulous – so much great information that I was not aware of regarding bees and other pollinators.
    Thanks so much. I will be able to be more of a help to the bees in my garden.

  3. Anastasia

    Hi Terrell,
    Informative article! Can I ask you a few questions on Insect Hotels? I’m with the City of Burnaby.
    Please reach out as I couldn’t find a direct email address for you.

  4. Sandra Dixon

    Thanks SO a much for providing this extremely important information!! All too true, that most of us don’t understand the difference between introduced “honeybees” and our vast diversity of native bees!
    We need to stop glorifying and promoting the hobby of beekeeping and honey production, and instead understand how much more important it is to protect and preserve our native species.

    I’ve shared your article and bee chart with my local gardening groups online to spread the word!

  5. Sandy

    Fantastic Article & Brochure! I am excited to visit the Gardens next week and see all of the beautiful flowers & pollinators ✨

  6. Terrell Roulston

    Hey there! Thank you for reading our blog! If you would like to learn more about how to support native bees and pollinators visit and . Or CONTACT ME at:

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