The endangerment of bees in recent years has been a cause for concern, and justifiably so. Many of our favorite domestic and imported fruits and vegetables depend on pollination. Even more importantly, bees play an essential role in the pollination of commercial crops. This, of course, has a huge impact on manufactured food products that are made from these ingredients.
The roles that bees play on our planet are:
- Global pollinators
- Maintain healthy ecosystems
- Responsible for many of our favorite crops
- A huge part of the global food economy
- Sustains livelihoods around the world
- Production of honey!
Pollination at Home and Around the World
Approximately 4,000 of the bee species around the world are native to the United States. These bees come in a wide array of distinct colors, sizes and shapes. These native bees are responsible for the pollination of our favorite plants like blueberries and cherries.
They pollinate about 75 percent of the crops grown in the U.S. Pollination from bees alone is the reason behind approximately 15 billion dollars in crop value every year. Native bees are also estimated to pollinate about 80 percent of flowering plants around the world.
The benefits that bees offer go beyond just human food. Thanks to these wonderful, busy bees, farm animals have more diverse forage sources and more flexibility to adjust to the increasingly changing global climate.
The healthy functioning of an ecosystem is partially dependent on pollination. When bees provide pollination in a forest ecosystem, they’re helping sustain it by conserving its biodiversity and improving the regeneration of trees.
Bees provide essential services to the intricate, connected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to coexist peacefully. Bees and other pollinators are vital to the environment and biodiversity conservation, along with other dimensions of global sustainable development.
Why is Pollination Important?
Not only do bees provide us with a significant amount of the food we eat and contribute to the economy, but they also perform vital roles in the natural ecosystem:
- Keep ecosystems healthy and productive
- Essential for commercial agriculture
Keep Ecosystems Healthy and Productive
Through pollination, bees help plant communities to remain healthy and productive. In doing this, bees aid plants in producing food and cover for wildlife, keeping waterways clean and preventing erosion.
Pollination is an ecosystem process that evolved over millions of years to benefit pollinators and flowering plants alike. This process is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants and is critical to start seed and fruit production. Without bees, this wouldn’t be possible for the majority of flowers around the world — not just in the U.S.
Essential for Commercial Agriculture
Not only do bees provide vital services in nature, but they’re also essential for productive commercial agricultural ecosystems. That’s because bees ensure the production of fruits and fertile seed sets in a wide range of crops.
Not surprisingly, pollination is the highest agricultural contributor to yields around the world. Pollination contributes much more than any other agricultural management method. Bees make an invaluable contribution to the planet’s agriculture.
Pollination is the number one contributor to agricultural yields around the globe. No other management practice in the agricultural sector comes close.
The Cost of Global Crops Depending on Pollinators
Pollinators affect approximately 35 percent of global agricultural land, supporting the production of 87 of the most important food crops worldwide. Keep in mind that crops dependent on pollination are five times more valuable on the market than those that do not need pollination.
The cost of global crops dependent on pollinators is estimated to be between 235 and 577 billion dollars a year, and their quantity is increasing. The volume of agricultural production relying on pollinators increased by a whopping 300 percent in the last 50 years alone!
These huge figures encompass the significance that pollinators — especially bees — have in sustaining livelihoods across the globe. With the ever-increasing commercial value of honey, bees are steadily becoming a valued generator of income. They are also a means of food security for many smallholder farmers and small-scale producers around the world.
What Would Bee Extinction Mean for the Planet?
The worldwide importance of bees as pollinators cannot be overemphasized. If you’ve been following climate change news, it comes as no surprise that pollinators are becoming increasingly under threat.
Present plant and animal extinctions are occurring at a rate of 100 to 1000 species lost per million per year. Yes, bees are also impacted significantly by this. This is due mainly to human-caused habitat destruction.
Bee extinction is thought to have the following impact on the planet:
- Less nutritious crops
- Spread of disease
Less Nutritious Crops
As commercial fields have become larger to meet increased demand, agricultural methods and practices have also changed. These methods focus on a narrower list of crops and increasing the use of pesticides. This is having a negative effect on the world’s bees and can cause a potentially serious decline in their population.
This dangerous decline has wide-reaching, long-term implications on the production of vitamin-rich, micronutrient-packed crops. This can lead to unbalanced, unhealthy diets and malnutrition.
Spread of Disease
An even bigger threat is the spread of pests and diseases on a large scale. This is a direct result of the reduced resistance of bee colonies. This, coupled with the effects of climate change, makes for the ultimate recipe for disaster. We need the bees not only for food but for disease prevention and the sustainability of our ecosystems.
Promoting Sustainable Agricultural Practices Worldwide
Maintaining yields in horticultural crops through agricultural development is critical to nutrition, food security and stable incomes for smallholder farmers. The plight of bees adversely affects everyone — from the smallholder farmer to the commercial crop factories, to the consumer.
Sustainable agriculture can help reduce risk to pollinators by diversifying the landscape and utilizing ecological processes as part of food production. This means putting in place policies that promote biological pest control and reduce the use of pesticides.
Implementing policies and practices such as these will help protect bees and build a greater diversity of pollinator habitats. This is important in both agricultural and urban settings.
Given the essential ecosystem services bees provide, they’re immensely valuable to both the environment and the economy. Pollination and the commercial food industry are intrinsically intertwined. Their unique adaptation to local climates and vegetation makes them an indispensable part of every country’s ecosystem.
The number of bees in existence is declining, and many species are nearing extinction. Human activities have destroyed and fragmented native bee habitats, from killing bees in backyards to causing mass wipeouts from chemicals and fertilizers.
The alarming decline of bees could mean the end of humanity. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we won’t be able to go for much longer without bees. We need to act now to stop their dangerous decline.