Why we need to rethink what bees we are saving.

Why are bees so important?
As many know, bees pollinate plants which are vital to the survival of ecosystems; us included. Over the day, a bee will visit hundreds of different flowers to gather pollen, and will, subsequently, deposit a small amount of that pollen into the stigma of another flower. This exercise helps pollinate flowers, which in turn, produces additional seeds for flowers to grow in the future. Without bees, the stability of earth’s ecosystems and food chains would collapse. Period.

The population of honeybees vs other species:
Honeybees are native to Asia, Africa and Europe but can now be found anywhere besides the Antarctic. Since 1961, the number of human-managed honeybee colonies globally has exploded from 49.2 million to 90.1 million today; that’s an 83% growth. With this drastic increase in population, a lot of attention has been clearly directed to the honeybee populations, whilst blindsided to the other 20,000 species that are considerably more valuable. The unreasonable focus on honeybee populations has both directly and indirectly caused a drastic decline in other, essential bee populations.

In the Midwest of North America for example, over 50% of their native bees have disappeared with a decline in bumblebee species by over 95%. In Australia, there are many native species that have now been classified as “extinct” with an upward trend in extinction. We must stop focusing our sole attention on the honeybee. This blatant disregard for other bee species – as will be explored below – is having (and will have) detrimental effects on the stability and existence of everything else.

Why should we save a wider variety of bees?
Whilst this text seems like “hate speech” towards honeybees, this is certainly not true. It’s when we choose to focus all attention on them is when everything goes south. But why?

Honeybees are good pollinators but not great; because they can pollinate a broad variety of plants, their effectiveness is inferior to that of specific bees with certain flowers. Similar to a job, you can never do multiple tasks to as high a standard as if you were given just one task to focus on: for the honeybees, its quantity over quality.

Case in point, the Osmia Cornuta is a type of bee programmed to pollinate apple trees, and would only require a few hundred of them to pollinate an entire hectare of apples. Comparatively, honeybees would require tens of thousands to pollinate the same amount of apple trees. A further example would be lavender plants which are pollinated at a far quicker rate with bumblebees than honeybees.

What are the benefits of saving a wider variety of bee species?
With the ever-growing human population set to reach 10.9 billion by 2100 according to the UN (United Nations), food or lack thereof will be a major talking point and something that needs to be addressed. With a wider variety of bee species like Bumblebees, Osmia Cornuta’s, Orchard mason bees, Asian giant hornets and many more, the growth of food and additional plants could be bolstered due to efficient pollination. Today 35% of agriculture production requires pollination for success, as well as almost 90% of different commercially-grown food crops in the United States alone; showing just how crucial bees are for food and overall plant production.

There would also be an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption due to more plants. Additionally, the pollination of plants at quicker rates would also increase the production of the plant itself, further increasing carbon sequestration and animal habitats.

The economic side of this argument also suggests that saving a greater variety of bees is important: global crop production success (largely caused by pollinators) is worth $767.1 billion AUD ($577 billion USD) with pollinators contributing $31.9 billion AUD ($24 billion USD) to the U.S. agriculture industry alone. That’s worth about 33.3% of all food consumed in the United States annually.

The detrimental effect on the food chain:
The loss of bees would instigate the collapse of ecosystems, mass famine, and more extinction as part of the domino effect. From simply the loss of flying insects.
For example, if bumblebees became extinct, the number of berry plants would dwindle and so too would rabbit populations. The trickle-on effect threatens the populations of foxes, coyotes etc.

True, honeybees could pollinate the berry plants instead, however, according to research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, a bumblebee can pollinate six berry plants in the time it takes a honeybee to pollinate just one. The drastic increase in time consumption would undoubtedly lead to a decline in essential plant life.

Today, many bumblebee keepers around the globe have claimed the population has declined by around 40% on average, which not coincidentally, has reduced the number of pollinated berry plants. Foods such as apples, almonds, berries, cucumbers, cherries, avocados, grapefruit, onions, oranges, pumpkins, bananas, melons, papaya and mangos are just a few examples of food that would likely be affected by the loss of bee varieties.

Are honeybees directly affecting other bee species?
Research done in California showed that non-native honeybees have disrupted native bees by decreasing seeds set in native plants. Other studies have demonstrated that non-native honeybees take nectar from a plant without pollinating it, resulting in a plant with little to no growth and seed production. Honeybees also form in large groups which have shown to push native bees away from their local habitats; reducing biodiversity. Additionally, honeybees bring in foreign diseases and viruses which have destroyed entire bumblebee colonies.

How we can increase the variety of bees in the world:
Large agriculture, tremendous amounts of pesticides and ginormous habitat loss are the main culprits behind the loss of 25% of bee species globally. As the human population continues to rise, so too does the demand for more pollinated food, which seems like good news for bees. Though simultaneously, vast amounts of land are being devoured for monocropping and pesticides continue to dominate the agricultural landscape. These 2 reasons alone not only restrain greater varieties of bees but kill them all in the first place.

If we wish to regenerate the threatened species or sustain the numbers for others, we must begin experimenting and implementing new methods of agriculture where there is a diverse array of plant life, on smaller plots of land and follow organic laws. All of which can, and is, being done across the planet in small numbers. Broadening the biodiversity and bioavailability is bound to increase the diversity of life (bees included); only adopting organic means of growing produce gives bees the capability and safety to effectively pollinate crops; and by using smaller plots of land, diversity can (again) flourish.

This blog wasn’t written to encourage one another to become careless about the dominant honeybee, but rather to express the importance of maintaining a far greater variety of bee species. In doing so, we will witness a huge amount of food production helping tackle famine worldwide, and witness a boom in plant populations and diversity; vital in tackling climate change. If that’s not important, what is?

Released on the 26th of November 2021. -KJDJ
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