Is there a future without bees? (part 1)

When we consider the importance of life on the planet, nature’s seasonal cycle, wildlife conservation, and even global hunger, few of us consider the role played by a little animal that is only taken seriously when we fear being stung. Yes, that little animal is the bee, and it’s best known for two reasons: the potency of its sting and the delicious honey it produces. But this insect has an importance that belies its size. Basically, without bees there would not be enough food to feed the planet; without bees our lives would be seriously at risk.

Many years ago, Albert Einstein predicted humankind would only live for four more years if these efficient and tireless pollinators became extinct. No more bees mean no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more humans.

Without paying too much attention to their plight, we are only now facing up to the very real possibility of bees disappearing from the face of the Earth. Estimates show a decline of more than half of the United Kingdom’s bees in recent years; in the United States, the numbers are even higher, with a 90% reduction of some regional populations, resulting in a dramatic drop in fruit production, especially apples.

Pollination & environmental risks

But why are bees so important if the wind and other insects are also responsible for pollinating plants? According to scientists, 80% of plant pollination is made by bees. They have a hairy body, facilitating the dispersal of pollen from one plant to another. Each bee usually visits around 4000 flowers a day in search of nectar and pollen. With its tongue, the bee collects nectar from flowers and places it in the back of its throat, while the pollen is collected in the leg hairs of the bee. As well as the pollination of flowers, pollen is also a food for the larvae and young bees in the hives.

Pollination is the transfer of genetic material from the male part into the female part of the flower and bees are the most effective insects in this regard. In parts of China, some fruit plant pollination is made by people rubbing a brush from flower to flower, but this technique is not an effective replacement for bees.

Although honeybees are the best-known species, more than 20,000 different bee species have been described worldwide. Yet even with a large diversity, bees face and are still facing a dark period, where their populations are being decimated, and in some cases, scientists cannot explain why.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which occurs in many countries, and the Varroa mite are the principal reasons behind the collapse in honeybee populations. However, no one knows for sure what causes CCD, but it can be linked to several factors such as habitat loss, uses of pesticide and malnutrition. Wild bees are also affected by environmental problems and struggling to survive.