Bees really are awesome! 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!
This is widely known, so I won’t expand on it too much here.
Bees are beneficial because of their pollination services, helping to provide food in the form of fruits, berries, nuts, leaves, roots and seeds.
Arguably, it is the most interesting parts of our diet that are reliant on bees (and other pollinators) for cross pollination.
It's not just delicious fruits that enable us to have things like strawberry ice cream, apple pie, blueberry muffins and so on that we should consider here, but also tasty vegetables like peas and beans.
Then again, bees also help to ensure that seeds will set for many kinds of plants, thus enabling a portion to be gathered for sowing a crop for the following year. This is important even for leaf crops such as some brassicas like kale.
It is worth remembering that if we don't have insects like bees to pollinate the plants for us, we may have to resort to other methods!
You can read more about the subject of pollination here.
Bees also pollinate foods eaten by other animals and birds.
Birds and mammals may rely on berries, seeds and also some fruits and nuts that are pollinated by bees and other pollinators.
It also has to be said that even 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!
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, but it's very difficult. 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 absolutely vital for crops such as almonds.
What is not easy to quantify is the contribution of many wild bees and pollinators to the important task of pollination, although some attempts have been made to do just that.
One estimate states 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 through sales of goods and services that people want to buy (like honey, wax, and pollination services) as well as an income for suppliers of beekeeping equipment.
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 as well as shrubs, thus enhancing and ensuring plant biodiversity and beauty in landscapes and gardens.
It is not only flowers and food crops that are pollinated by bees.
This point is often neglected, but many trees are pollinated
by bees (and other insects).
Horse chestnuts, rowans, hawthorn, 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. Trees in turn, support much wildlife, help to stabilize soil structure and landscapes, and are the lungs of the earth!
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).
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.
Some might state that bees
are not important, because their role in pollination could be filled by other
pollinators. However, this is not necessarily true, but in any event, the health
and abundance of bees is a crucial indicator for the health of the wider
environment as a whole. Thus, the factors affecting bees will often impact other pollinators, and have wider consequences for the environment generally.
Honey bees especially provide an opportunity to judge longer term environmental health, since they are one of the few insect species which produce colonies which are meant to survive for multiple years. They also have a group of people - namely beekeepers - looking out for, and observing their progress (albeit not for wild honey bee colonies).
In addition, 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.
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.
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?
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.
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, with pollinator margins around the perimeters of crops fields.
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!
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