Why are bees so important?
As many know, bees pollinate plants which is vital to the survival of the ecosystem, including us. Over the day, a bee will visit hundreds of different flowers to gather pollen. After collection, the bee will drop a small portion of that natural goodness into the female section of another flower. This process helps pollinate flowers which in turn, results in producing additional seeds for flowers to grow in the future. Without bees, this process could never be done and ultimately leave detrimental impacts on the food supply for all organisms that roam the earth.
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 total number of human-managed honeybee colonies globally had exploded from 49.2 million to 90.1 million today. That’s a growth of about 83%. With this drastic increase in population, we can clearly see that a lot of attention is being directed to the honeybee population, completely dismissing the other 20,000 species that are actually far more valuable. Today, the world is focusing on honeybees resulting in a drastic decline in other native bee populations.
In the Midwest of North America for example, over 50% of their native bees have disappeared completely with a decline in bumblebee species by over 95%. In Australia, there are many native species that have now been classified as extinct with the number continuously rising. We need to stop worrying about the honeybee. The other species should be much more of a concern, not only are we bringing more species to extinction, but species that the ecosystem heavily relies on for survival.
Why we must save wider varieties of bee species:
While this text may appear to be against honeybees, this is certainly not true as they are important. However, focusing all attention on them is when the idea goes south quickly. But why?
Honeybees are good at pollination and can help out. However, because they can pollinate a broad variety of plants, they can’t do it to the quality specific bees can with certain flowers. Similar to a job, you will never do multiple tasks to as high a standard as if you were given just one task to focus on.
For instance, the Osmia Cornuta is a type of bee especially good at pollinating apple trees and would only require a few hundred of them to pollinate an entire hectare of apples. Compare that to the honeybees which would require tens of thousands to pollinate the exact same amount of apple trees. Another example would be a lavender plant which could be pollinated at a far quicker rate with a bumblebee compared to a honeybee.
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 will need to be addressed quickly. 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 escalate in terms of speed due to far more 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 of America alone, showing just how crucial bees are for food and overall plant production.
Even indirect effects that may not mean much straight away, would still be very valuable such as an increase in cattle production due to more edible plants resulting in an increase in meat and/or dairy products. 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 in terms of size potentially providing more cover/protection/homes for animals in the wild during poor weather or simply trying to hide from a predator.
The economic side of this argument also suggests that saving a greater variety of bees is important. Today, the successful global crop production largely caused by bee pollination 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 around 33.3% of all food consumed in the United States of America each year!
The detrimental effect on the food chain:
If bees were to go down the road of extinction in an extreme scenario or even if all bees apart from honeybees died off, this would cause catastrophic consequences, easily demolishing the balance in the ecosystem leading to mass famine in humans, other animals and insects then resulting in mass extinction. This all just from simply a loss in tiny, flying insects. For example, if bumblebees were led to extinction, that would result in a drastic decline in berry plants resulting in less food for rabbits, then leading to a domino effect for foxes, coyotes, etc. True, honeybees could pollinate the berry plants instead, however, according to a research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, a bumblebee can pollinate six berry plants in the exact time it takes a honeybee to pollinate just one. The drastic increase in time consumption would undoubtedly lead to many berry plants lost due to a lack of pollination.
Today, many bumblebee keepers around the globe have proved this saying they have witnessed a decline in the local bumblebee population by around 40% which in turn, has remarkably lowered the number of berry plants pollinated. Many foods such as apples, almonds, berries, cucumbers, cherries, avocados, grapefruit, onions, oranges, pumpkins, banana’s, melons, papaya and mangos are just a few examples of food that would most likely be lost or drastically slashed in production without our wide variety of effective pollinators. So, if you like and/or need any of these foods, you should like bees just as much.
Are honeybees directly affecting other bee species?
Research done in California showed that non-native honeybees have negatively affected native bees by disrupting the local pollinators and decreasing seed set in native plants. Other studies have also shown that non-native honeybees have sometimes taken 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 area meaning a lack of biodiversity. Additionally, many bumblebees have caught diseases from honeybees resulting in deaths and additional spreading of the viruses to other bumblebee groups and later to other species. So, while there aren’t multiple statements exactly stating that honeybees are wiping out or directly affecting other groups of bee species, it’s fairly safe to say that this is most likely the case.
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 why we have already lost around 25% of all bee species in the world. As the human population continues to rise, so too does the demand for more pollinated food which may seem like good news for the bees. However, at the same time, huge amounts of land are being devoured for a single species of plant and pesticides continue to dominate the farmland. These two reasons alone, are not only drastically restraining greater varieties of bees but eliminating them all in the first place. If we want to regenerate the threatened species or boost the numbers for others, then we must begin trying new methods of agriculture where there is an abundance of different plants, on smaller plots of land and only require organic sprays. This may seem hard but there are ideas like this being tested in countries today like ‘permaculture’ which has been quite successful. Widening the diversity of plants is bound to increase the diversity of bees, only using organic spray means bees will be capable of still pollinating plants without being disrupted by dangerous substances, and by using smaller plots of land will result in extra farms each growing different plants, resulting in even greater diversity again. These three simple ideas would greatly benefit not only the bee population but many other wildlife species and humans themselves.
Small flying insects known as bees may seem more than insignificant to the ecosystem. However, these insects are probably one of the most important organisms on earth, helping grow food for survival, generating additional cash for the economy and much more. The only problem is that we are currently focusing all our attention on one species, leaving the rest to descend into extinction. If this happens, it will open the floodgates to chaos by drastically slashing food production, resulting in the domino effect wiping out even more species. This blog wasn’t written to encourage one another to become careless about the dominant honeybee, but rather to express the importance of looking after a far greater variety of bee species. By doing so, we could see a far greater amount of food production helping tackle famine worldwide as well as witness a boom in plant numbers vital in tackling climate change and global warming. If that’s not important – I’m not exactly sure what is.