Why Bees Are Vital For Humans And Our Ecosystems
It’s not too often that you stop and think about how the environments that surround you actually survive and function; why do plants and crops grow like they do; what causes pollination; what would happen if there were no bees…
Well, this article will help to answer all of those queries and better your understanding of why bees are so incredibly important for our ecosystems, and our world as a whole.
Pollination is a process that is needed for all plant life on earth to survive. It’s how plants reproduce, and without it, plant life would very quickly become extinct.
A small minority of plant species are able to self-pollinate. This means they are able to reproduce without fertilization by the pollen of another plant. Most of these plants use methods such as shooting their seeds into the wind, so they are carried away or releasing them into a river to be deposited further downstream. A plant can only self-pollinate if they contain both the male and female reproductive organs, yet only around 10-15% of all plants on the planet can self-pollinate. The other 75% have to reproduce via cross-pollination. This is where the bees step in.
When bees extract nectar from plants and flowers, pollen gets stuck on tiny hairs across the bees’ body. As they fly away, this pollen is then scattered onto other plants, or blown away in the air.
It’s estimated that around 80% of all cultivated crops (i.e. crops that are intended to be sold to the public for consumption) are pollinated by bees. This is a huge percentage. Without the help of bees, the world’s food supply would collapse, and some parts of the world would be struck with famine. It would also have a huge economic impact on the farming industry. It’s estimated that if bees stopped pollinating naturally, farmers in the UK alone, would have to spend roughly £1.8 billion to artificially fertilize their crops; not to mention the amount of time this would take, particularly on a mass scale.
And it’s not just cultivated crops but all plant life across the world. As we all know, plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis; oxygen that is needed for human and animal life on this planet. If there’s no pollination by bees, then there’s no plant reproduction; no plant reproduction, no plants, then no oxygen and thus no more human life. It’s as simple as that.
The biggest benefit of the bee, of course, other than pollinating all of humanity’s crops, is the honey that they produce. While not all bee’s produce honey, roughly 5% of all bee species (of which there are around 25,000) can produce honey, equating to about 1250 bee species. Seeing as recent studies have estimated that there are ~2 trillion bees around the world, that’s about 10 billion bees creating honey at any one time.
Honey is a major export for many multi-national food corporations. The worldwide market value of honey was estimated to be about $7 billion USD.
The great thing about honey is that it’s beneficial to both bees and our environment, plus humans can use it as a sweetener, substituting for other sweeteners such as sugar and sucrose.
Many people have started beekeeping on their own land, as the bees can revitalize the area via pollinations of new plants; and the humans get the added reward of collecting the honey they produce. Beekeeping is also quite a low maintenance hobby, making it quite attractive for people who like to help their local ecosystems without having to spend hours of their time each day/week putting in hard labour. Bees also naturally produce wax in their beehives, which can be made into funky household items such as candles. On a more industrial scale, I can be recycled into products such as lip balm or crayons.
One of the biggest problems we face in the modern world is global warming and climate change. Almost every species and ecosystem on the planet has been somewhat affected in the last 30 years due to the rapid warming of the earth as a whole, but bees have been hit hard by the changing climate. Studies have found that over the past few years, bee populations throughout different parts of the world have shrunk as much as 30% in some regions. But why is that? Well, one reason is that disease is more common in hotter weather.
Bees are very susceptible to parasites such as microscopic mites and tiny worms such as gut worms. These small but deadly parasites reproduce more in warmer weather, meaning the chances of a bee being affected by one is even higher than usual. This made even worse due to longer and more frequent heatwaves occurring in areas that wouldn’t usually have such high temperatures, such as Ireland and the UK. These pests are a huge problem for farmers when transporting their bees from farm to farm, as they’re very easily picked up in unsanitary places.
Another reason is deforestation and the destruction of habitats. In the wild, bees have seen they’re natural habitats cut down a lot over the past 50 years or so. Of course, without the correct habitat to live and produce honey/pollinate crops, that colony of bees will cease to exist.
The final major problem is the shift in seasons. With warmer weather becoming more frequent all year round, there has been a shift in the starting point of the seasons. Bee’s hibernate throughout the majority of the late autumn and winter months, only to remerge in the spring and summer when flowers are in full bloom. However, the bees are beginning to come out of hibernation too early or too late, due to the shift of the seasons. If they come out of hibernation too early, the flowers haven’t begun to blossom yet. If they come out of hibernation too late, the bees won’t be able to collect enough nectar to sustain their hive for hibernation in the following winter. This also poses a problem for the ecosystem’s bees reside in, and consequently, humans. The bees won’t be able to pollinate enough plants for good crop growth in the spring and summer, leading to a food shortage.
The best way to save our environment is to first, save the bees. As mentioned earlier, the bee population across the world has decreased drastically as of late, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon without our help. Simple things such as planting more plants to supply the bees with more food will go a long way in ensuring that the bee population doesn’t keep dwindling. Other things such as making sure not to disturb their habitats, avoiding the use of pesticides (allowing the bees to fertilize more crops), and supporting local beekeepers by buying their homegrown honey/wax, as they can then afford to keep maintaining their hives, and increasing the bee population. The process of trying to rebuild the bee population is a long and winding road that will take time and effort but is something that needs to be done. Without our help, our ecosystems will surely die out within the next century.