Honey Bee Pollination
Where would agriculture be without honey bee pollination?
It’s estimated that bees pollinate around a third of the food we eat.
Fruit trees, including apples and pears, and soft fruit such as the strawberry and blueberry, need bees for a good yield.
Yet, honey bees are not the only pollinators, so why are they the species most commonly used?
Here are some reasons:
The practice of beekeeping has meant that large numbers of honey bees are available to farmers, and can be transported from one field to another. It has led to the development of a whole industry based around honey bee pollination. Some beekeepers specialise in this service, rather than focusing on honey production.
Lack of Knowledge About Other Pollinators
Honey bees are one of the most intensely studied creatures on the planet. Other insects, however, have not been so widely researched. In reality, this means there is a lack of understanding about specific insects and their efficiency, in pollinating different crops. I was interested to read the following quote in a book by Professor Dave Goulson “Bumblebees Behaviour and Ecology”:
“….in Europe, a region better studied than most, about 250 plant species are grown as crops. Of these, about 150 are thought to be insect pollinated, but for most we do not know which insects pollinate them, or whether yields are being limited by inadequate pollination “; From: Prof. Dave Goulson; citing Corbet et al 1991 & Williams 1995.
So what does this mean in practice? It means that although the honey bee pollination industry is well developed, there has been little information about how effective they are, or whether they have been helped out by other native, wild species. Certainly, until recent years, little incentive has existed to rear different bees and insects for pollination, such as for use in poly tunnels. However, more recently, we are beginning to see changes and developments in this area, to some extent, for commercial reasons (increasing agricultural production), and more recently, due to fears about over reliance on the honey bee, which has suffered from diseases, viruses and recently, colony collapse disorder (CCD) has taken its toll. Find out more about the problems facing honey bees
You'll find a general introduction to the 'missing bees' problem (which affects all types of bees)
Lack of Alternatives
Following on from the point above, until fairly recently, it was not actually possible to buy the services of other bee species and insects for pollinating crops, other than honey bees.
However, over recent years, other species have now become available. There is also a growing movement to help farmers understand how they can encourage local native pollinators onto their land, by providing nest sites, and bee colonies have become available to buy. Unfortunately, the availability of bee colonies for purchase (such as with bumblebee species) has sometimes led to negative consequences when a commercially reared species has been moved from one region to another (not natural to it), taking with them diseases that have impacted upon the local native species. You can read more about this on my page about
bumble bees for pollination.
Without a doubt, honey bees still play a vital role in pollination. I believe they have an invaluable role in conservation too. You can read about that
Honey Bee Pollination: How do Honey Bees Pollinate?
Like other insects, honey bees pollinate plants as they forage on the flowers. As they gather pollen and nectar to return to their hives, they transfer pollen from one flwoer to another.
So how does this happen?
Pollen (containing the male eggs – or gametes) sticks to a honey bee body from the anthers of the flowers. As the bee then moves on to other flowers, they take the pollen with them, transferring it onto the stigma – the female part - of the next flower (the stigma is often sticky). This initiates the
plant pollination process.
Read more about pollination by clicking on these links:
Where insect pollinators are needed, honey bee pollination is by far the most commonly used in agriculutre, but other bees are important too. Find out more about bees and pollination here.
Bumblebees For Pollination
Bumblebees are excellent pollinators in gardens, the countryside, and on farmlands. Find out why.
Bees are not the only pollinators of the insect world. Find out more about other pollinating insects.
Learn About Flower Pollination
Find out how flowers cleverly attract the different pollinators they need.
Want to know about Wind Pollination?
Although most plants require the help of a moving, living creature for pollination, not all plants do. Learn more here.
How and why have some plants evolved the ability to pollinate themselves? Find out!
Cross pollination promotes biodiversity. Explore how plants have adapted to aid cross pollination.