Despite their tiny antennae, fuzzy bodies, and adorably disproportionate eyes and wings, it seems like everyone is scared of bees. Yes, they sting when they’re threatened, but without bees, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Unfortunately, through climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss and fragmentation, we have caused significant declines in the populations of these important pollinator species.
Bees are responsible for pollinating one third of the food we eat. When they travel from flower to flower, pollen adheres to their legs, transporting pollen to the next flower. Without bees, it would be significantly more difficult for this pollination to take place, preventing crop production that we rely on to survive. Because of these rapid declines in bees, people in China have begun pollinating crops by hand; however, this is an extremely ineffective method compared to the efficiency of bees. This shouldn’t be viewed as a possible solution if bees go extinct.
Bees are involved in food production at every level, not just with fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Without bees, we wouldn’t have alfalfa or other crops that are consumed by cows. This means that our meat and milk supply would also be negatively affected. More obviously, bees produce honey out of nectar, directly impacting our honey supply.
Bees also help in our fight against climate change. By pollinating flowering plants and trees, they help these organisms that naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen via photosynthesis to reproduce. While wind pollination is somewhat effective in transporting pollen to plants, this method is unreliable and doesn’t work for all plant species. For 75 to 90 percent of flowering plants, they need to be pollinated by pollinators like bees and butterflies, making wind pollination insufficient.
Aside from their importance to our food systems, bees also help promote biodiversity by pollinating flowers. Without bees we would not have the variety of trees and flowers that we do now, leaving our world barren and empty.
Threats like pesticide use, habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change have all had dramatic effects on the global bee population. In conventional agriculture, farmers rely heavily on chemical pesticides to deter pests and protect their crops; however, they adversely affect the same bees that are responsible for pollinating the crops. By killing bees with pesticides, crop yield is minimized. There’s no reason why we should be using these chemicals that are toxic to the very insects that are responsible for producing our food.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are also significant threats to bees. As the human population continues to grow exponentially, so does our demand for food. This means that more fields and forests that are home to many pollinators need to be cleared for cropland. Also, through our irresponsible agricultural methods, soil is depleted of its nutrients, making it infertile and unable to grow more crops. This leads to more clearing of natural and wild land for agriculture.
One of the easiest ways that we can protect bees at an individual level is by planting a diverse variety of wildflowers, specifically those most beneficial to pollinators, such as zinnias, toadflax, coneflowers, and lavender. By increasing the availability of these flowers for bees, we provide them with greater amounts of pollen and nectar that they need to survive. Many people are also unaware that bees need to drink water. Putting a small, shallow water source near the garden will also help these pollinators.
On a larger scale, we need to rethink conventional agriculture to be more considerate of bees. This involves being more conscientious about pesticide use and switching to biological methods of pest control that don’t involve toxic chemicals. Additionally, habitat destruction for the sole purpose of cropland needs to be reconsidered, meaning that farmers should switch to agricultural methods that don’t deplete soil nutrients as frequently. This would allow the same cropland to be reused year after year, preventing deforestation in another area and the cycle from repeating.
Without bees, our global food system would collapse and our planet wouldn’t be nearly as biodiverse as it is right now. A world without bees is much scarier than a world with them. Because of everything that humans have done to bees, it seems like they should be more afraid of us than we are of them.