Pollination creates the seed from which plants grow. The pollinator takes pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part. This enables fertilisation which creates the seed. This is how pollinators help plants grow, multiply and produce food.
About 75% of food crops depend on pollinators for pollination. There are about 200,000 different pollinators on the earth, including birds, bats, butterflies and other insects.
So why do bees stand out?
Bees are very efficient. One bee can pollinate on average 2000 flowers a day. They are used as commercial pollinators in the US, and service over a 100 crops in North America. There are many different species of bee. Some of them are specialists and work well with specific plants.
Farmers need bee diversity to service their crops. There is even evidence that the right bee species improves the quality of crops produced. In one study well managed pollination increased crop yield by 24%. Some plants need multiple pollination visits. Without these the fruit can be small or misshapen
A world without honey bees would not mean that we starve. Staples such as rice, wheat and potatoes don’t need to be pollinated. However, a lot of the foods that add colour, vitamins and taste to our diet would not survive, such as fruits, some vegetables, nuts and oils.
Honey bees also produce honey. Apart from tasting delicious it also has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Bees also produce wax. Wax has hundreds of uses, for example to make candles or beauty products.
Bees and trees are interdependent. Bees often nest in trees and their pollinating activities help the trees regenerate. Biodiversity would be limited without bees. Bee pollination and cross pollination of flowering plants also ensures that the genes of the plants change. A new plant could sprout from a root however its genetics would be the same. New genetics increase biodiversity and help forests survive in the race that is natural life.
What’s happening to bees?
Native bees are dying at an alarming rate. The National Agriculture Statistics Service (NAS) states in 1947 there were 5.9 million colonies in the US. In 2007 there were only 2.4 million, that’s 60% less bees. A US study in 2007 documented losses of 36% in managed colonies across the US in only 1 year. This is happening around the world.
Why are bees dying?
Bees habitats are shrinking and they are being poisoned. Biologists studying bees have found over 150 chemicals in bee pollen. Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year by farmers in the US. Given that the bees feed on these crops they are ingesting the pesticides too.
Natural habitats are shrinking. Wild bees feed on crops but they also need wild habitats and a variety of plants. Every year more and more grasslands and forests are being removed and the land is being used for farming single crops. Imagine if your only food was apples and what that might do to your health.
How can we help bees?
The answers are easy. Reduce pesticides and restore natural biodiverse habitats. Use your voice to lobby your local government to restrict pesticide use in agriculture, specifically fibronil, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. These are restricted in the EU because of the threat they pose to the honey bee. Buy organic where possible. Grow a variety of plants including wildflowers on your land.
To find out more on how you can be more sustainable click here.