10 Reasons Why Bees Are Important

Bees really are awesome!  No doubt you have heard at least some ideas about why bees matter, but here is a list of ten reasons why bees are important and beneficial for humanity and the environment.  Some of these reasons are widely acknowledged, but perhaps there will be a few in this list you had not yet thought about!

1. Importance of bees in pollination

This is widely known, so I won’t expand on it too much here. 

Bees are beneficial because of their pollination services, providing food in the form of fruits, berries, nuts, leaves, roots and seeds.

Arguably, however, it is the most interesting parts of our diet are reliant on bees (and other pollinators) for cross pollination

Bees help to ensure that seeds set (so that a portion can be gathered for sowing to produce a crop the following year), and this is important even for leaf crops such as some brassicas like kale.

Many culinary herbs are enjoyed for their leaves and seeds. For example, fennel, is a delicious herb pollinated by bees.  The whole plant is enjoyed by humans:  the leaves, and even the pollen and seeds are used in cooking.

You can read more about the subject of pollination here.

2. Importance of bees within food webs

What is often ignored is the fact that bees also pollinate foods eaten by other animals and birds. 

Birds and mammals may rely on berries, seeds and also some fruits and nuts.  It also has to be said that some domesticated animals benefit from pollination too – cows, for example, eat alfalfa which is pollinated by bees (leafcutter bee species are especially effective).  So you see, bees play a vital role in the whole food chain!

3. Financial contribution of bees to the economy

For some, to be considered valuable, a thing has to be assigned a monetary value (although for me, the natural world is to be appreciated and valued in its own right).

Attempts have been made to quantify the contribution of bees to the food crop industry. 

In 2010, it was estimated that bees contribute $US40billion per annum. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honey bees contribute $15bn to US crop production alone.  Honey bees are vital for crops such as almonds.

What is not easy to quantify is the fact that there are also many wild pollinators including many wild bees, helping out with the important task of pollination. Again, an attempt has been made to quantify the contribution.  One estimate was that pollination by wild bees contributes an average $3,251 per hectare per year to crop production.  The study suggested that 2% of wild bee species – the most common types – fertilise about 80% of bee-pollinated crops worldwide (Kleijn et al 2014).

Personally, I think there are so many factors to consider, that calculating a figure is impossible.  What we do know, however, is that bees are important!

In tandem with pollination, the beekeeping industry provides an income for beekeepers and their families, as well as an income for suppliers of beekeeping equipment, and goods and services people want to buy (goods like honey and wax, as well as pollination services). 

The pollination industry is growing, with experimentation in the commercial rearing of bumblebees and some solitary bee species, for the provision of pollination services (I have a number of concerns about this, although I do not negatively judge commercial beekeepers).

4. Bees benefit biodiversity

Quite apart from the fact that pollination is important for food production, bees contribute greatly to the countryside, to gardens and general enrichment of landscapes.  Bees are therefore beneficial to the environment generally.

They pollinate wild flowers, thus enhancing biodiversity and beauty in landscapes and gardens.

5. Trees need bees!

It is not only flowers and food crops that are pollinated by bees. 

This point is often neglected, but many (though not all) trees are pollinated by bees (and other insects). 

Trees in turn, support much wildlife, help to stabilize soil structure and landscapes, and are the lungs of the earth!  

Horse chestnuts, rowans, hawthorne, whitebeam, wayfaring tree, hazel, holly, alder, the majestic native limes, pussy willow and fruit trees: cherry, pear, plum, quince and apple are just some examples. 

Bees of course, also benefit from trees.

6. Bees have much to teach us

Bees are awesome because they have much to teach humans!  For example, bees have inspired scientific and engineering projects such as the use of hexagons in engineering. 

Bees have also inspired philosophical and poetic ideas about how humans can learn lessons from bees

The study of bees (especially honey bees) has generated huge amounts of scientific research and they are probably the most studied creature after humans.  Who knows what bees may teach us tomorrow?

7. Bees help sustenance farmers

Bees help people and communities, especially in developing countries.  An international organisation called Bees For Development helps communities to earn a sustainable living and pollinate food crops through beekeeping. 

8. Bees help communities - beyond pollination and honey production!

Some of the practical ways in which bees may help communities in developing countries are somewhat more unusual.  For example, bees are helping to save elephants and protect people in Africa, by reducing human-elephant conflict.

Even more surprising is the fact that it has been found that bees can be trained to sniff out landmines and explosives!  They may yet be saving lives in very practical ways! 

(Interestingly, it has been found that wasps can also be trained in a similar way to bees).

9. Bees are like 'the canary in the coal mine' - they tell us about the health of the wider environment

Some might state that bees are not important, because their role in pollination could be filled by other pollinators.  However, the health and abundance of bees is a crucial indicator for the health of the wider environment as a whole, and the factors affecting bees will often impact other pollinators, and thus have wider consequences for the environment generally.

Honey bees especially provide an opportunity to judge longer term environmental effects, since they are one of the few insect species which produce colonies which are meant to survive for multiple years, rather than short term colonies with only a few colony members (usually the new queens) surviving.  

The by-products of honey, wax and pollen can also be analysed easily for pollution, and importantly, these products can be scientifically studied over time (even within a single colony), with a certain number of scientific controls imposed.
See Why Honey Bees Matter.

10. Bees are part of the earth's wonderful biodiversity!

Bees are important simply because they are a species with a right to their existence, just as any other! 

All creatures play a role in this great web of life, and earth’s rich biodiversity sustains not only other species, but also humanity. 

Conclusion: we need to look after bees and other pollinators...

Many people are doing their bit to help bees, especially in their gardens. At a community level, councils can also help.

Some farmers are taking the issue of biodiversity very seriously too – for example, this farmer in Norfolk, England (see image below) has created a huge pollinator margin, and the field is surrounded by hedgerows. 

In tandem with these brilliant efforts, we need to cut agrochemical use.  Some farmers are again coming to such a conclusion themselves, having increasing concerns about soil fertility. Others are signalling they want to do their bit to help wildlife.

And finally, even the flower growing industry is starting to take note.  Here is an example of a small scale, wildlife-friendly flower grower.

The overall trend then, is that an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the plight of bees and the need to help them.  I hope you'll be inspired too!