When you hear somebody talking about bees, you may imagine a person equipped with a beekeeper suit that works around a honey bee hive to extract that sweet fluid we all know and love. Although bees are responsible for producing honey, they play a far more important role in our world’s ecosystem. Read the following article to learn more.
In order to provide food for the world’s fast-growing population, food has to be both in sufficient quantity and also diverse. The wellbeing of humankind also depends on variety and quality when it comes to food.
These little flying creatures are known for their ability to provide great food for themselves and for humans. There is honey, royal jelly, pollen. Moreover, they provide other ingredients and products used in different sectors, such as healthcare. Humans use beeswax, propolis, and even the honey bee venom.
This being said, it’s not all about honey. Both the wild bees as well as the ones we keep in man-made hives are critical for pollinating plants that produce a huge range of food, including blueberries, almonds, and beans. The global value of insect pollination is estimated at 153 billion euros every year.
While this figure includes contributions from butterflies, moths, and beetles, most of the work is done by the bees. Commercially reared bumblebees are important pollinators of tomato plants. If the bees die out, these plants have to be pollinated by hand using little vibrating wands which is less fun than it sounds and it’s also more expensive. Tomato growing could become unproductive.
Just imagine all the food dishes that use tomatoes as ingredients and then imagine the world of cuisine without this ingredient. It is scary to think of a food industry without the involvement of bees in nature, but unfortunately, this is where we are all heading if we do not take care and avoid the use of harmful pesticides or if we don’t find solutions for the varroa mite infestations.
Bees, together with other pollinators, have the job of pollinating almost three quarters of all the plants that produce 90% of the food on Earth. In other words, every third spoonful of food is dependent on pollinator animals.
Farming and income
In the last 50 years, the crops that rely on pollination, such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, or oilseeds, have tripled in number. There is a direct correlation between bees and agricultural production, as they play a major role through pollination. The bees’ presence on farm fields translates into an increased amount of farming produce.
Moreover, bees contribute to the quality of the product as well as to plant resistance against pests.
Plants that are cultivated on farms and depend on pollination are the main source of income for farmers, especially in small or family-owned farms from developing countries. Bees indirectly provide millions of people with jobs.
An international study conducted in the year 2016 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, showed that the worth of the annual production of food that is solely dependent on pollination at a global level reaches values between $235 billion and $577 billion.
Bees also play an important role in ecological balance preservation and natural biodiversity. Pollination, one of their obvious ecosystem services makes food production possible. This, in turn, protects and maintains the ecosystems and the plant and animal species, as well. At the same time, bees contribute to enriching the genetic and biotic diversity.
Numerous creatures rely on bees for their own existence. Badgers will dig out the nest to feast on the juicy grubs, there are bee-eaters that consume them, and a whole lot of other creatures prey on, or parasitize upon the bees, including the endangered oil beetle.
Numerous wildflowers depend on bees for pollination. If you take away the bees, there will be drastic consequences both to the plants and the animals that depend on them. The world will become a less colorful, and less interesting place.
Indicating environmental change
Bees can act like watchdogs as numerous bee species have precise habitat requirements. If that habitat undergoes a change, their population will respond quickly. This makes bees potentially good indicators of environmental disturbance, including climate change.
The presence or absence combined with their quantity can be interpreted and this way we learn that something is happening to the environment and that adequate steps must be taken. By observing their health development, people may think of precautionary measures and implement them before the situation gets out of hand.
One good example is the arrival of the tree bumblebee in the United Kingdom in 2001 from France. The species is now covering more than half of the country, but fortunately, it’s not going to have any negative impacts on native UK bees.
These are services to which bees contribute that go beyond just pollinating our food plants. Remember the wild plants pollinated by bees? Some of them will grow big and strong and soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a process known as carbon sequestration potentially offsetting human-caused emissions.
Their roots might bind the soil together preventing erosion and slow the seepage of water through the ground helping to minimize floods. These days, nobody has calculated the total value of these services, currently being provided for free.
However, as anybody who stared through the windows of an expensive shop will know, just because there is no price tag, this doesn’t mean something isn’t extremely valuable.
So, bees provide us with food, help maintain biodiversity, act as indicators of environmental change and contribute to a whole lot of ecosystem services. Although many species of bees are in decline, others are actually doing okay. These include species that aren’t dependent only on some specific flower types and can collect pollen from a wide range of food sources.
Bees are known to be some of the hard-working insects in the animal kingdom. Their work and laborious pollinating methods have a positive effect on our planet. Therefore, we have to be equally aware and amazed by their importance among us.