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Goodbye Honeybees, Honey and Natural Pollination

Bees are essential for agriculture and life on earth. Bees are essential for agriculture and life on earth.

Back in the old days, before hydroponics indoor growers and outdoor growers started interfering in the sex lives of their plants, high value plants were male or female, just like humans, and the male and female plants had plant sex and produced babies, otherwise known as “seeds.”


Then some wise growers discovered that if you kill or sequester the males so their pollen can’t get to the female flowers, that your female flowers swell up bigger and with more essential oils. Along with that, those seedless flowers are easier to process and worth more because they aren’t flush with seeds.

Many types of food-producing plants and trees still rely on pollen and pollination, and bees are one of nature’s most important pollinators.

Not only that, bees make honey. They’re very valuable and fascinating little creatures. Unfortunately, the latest scientific data reveals a 96% reduction in the numbers of some of the most important honeybee pollinators in North America, and an 87% reduction in the bees’ range.

In 2007, the US Secretary of Agriculture warned that bee extinctions could cost tens of billions of dollars in lost agricultural production, and possibly endanger our food supply.

As a child, I learned about the fate of bees the hard way, when my friends and I found a massive beehive in an old tree near my house. One of my friends told his father about the hive; the man promptly arrived at the tree with a ladder, a six-pack and a container of gasoline. Despite my protests, he poured gasoline on the tree and lit the nest on fire. He stood drunk and laughing as the hive burned.

Ever since, I’ve been painfully aware of how badly people treat bees and other pollinators… There’s my neighbor running his lawnmower over spring wildflowers covered in bees. I see another neighbor spraying clouds of pesticides on his lawn, shrubs and trees. I see bulldozers trashing woods where bees have hives.

And while mainstream media raises alarms about a mysterious bee “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), or super-aggressive “Africanized” bees, they fail to tell the real story about bees on decline.

That’s why Rosebud interviewed Bucknell University bee expert and author Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi Evans, whose book “Why Do Bees Buzz” is fascinating and timely. Here’s the buzz on bees:

Can you share with us some exceptionally fascinating bee characteristics that you’ve written about in your book?

We describe one striking element of the honeybee communication system that people find fascinating: a forager bee has the ability to direct her nest-mates to the position of valuable food resources in the environment, all without the ability to talk! They do it by moving their bodies in a particular way on their honeycomb. This bi-coordinate “waggle dance” behavior is why honeybees are such efficient pollinators! It is truly a remarkable component of the biology of honeybees. We also describe how bees are an important part of the culture for many communities of people, including Mayans and Egyptians; in the book, we encourage our readers to think about bees through the lens of history.

What roles do bees and other insect pollinators play in the ecosystems that support life on this planet?

Without pollinators, many plants would not be able reproduce. For this reason, we should value pollinators because they are important providers of “ecosystem services” – without them, plant populations would not be able to produce seeds or fruits. The honeybee is the most important agent in the maintenance of flowering plant diversity. Worldwide, honeybees are just as important as the more traditional domesticated farm animals. Bees, both honeybees and native bees, are an important link in myriad ecological interactions across multiple types of habitats, including grasslands, forests, and even deserts.

How do bees and other insect pollinators fit into the agricultural food chain that produces food for humans?

Estimates report that one in three bites of food in an American’s diet result from the action of a pollinator, so it is safe to say that pollinators are exceptionally important for humans. Honeybees are responsible for about 80% of the insect pollination of food crops. They are required for the production of many foods, including almonds, apples, cherries, blueberries, and melons. They also pollinate flowers of many forage crops like alfalfa, so seeds can be harvested, marketed, and grown for animal food. Our current agricultural systems rely on honeybees because they live in large colonies. Before honeybees were brought to North America by Europeans migrating here, other types of bees (such as bumble bees, sweat bees, carpenter bees, and so forth) were the primary pollinators in our landscapes.

What are the main threats to bee populations?

For native bees, indiscriminate use of pesticides is a large threat, but so is habitat loss and other human-induced changes to natural landscapes. Invasive plant and animal species and even global climate change (which impacts bees by changing plant biology) can have large impacts on bee populations. Honeybees have a number of different diseases and parasites that affect their populations, too. Further, honeybee populations are stressed by how we manage them and by some of our agricultural practices.

Are we reaching a tipping point in which insect pollinator populations will crash to the extent that it severely affects natural systems and human food supply?

It is hard to say if we are nearing a tipping point – but we know we need to work to reduce the threats and stressors on bees. The honeybee is such an important species for pollination, and we need to know how and why their populations are challenged. With additional research, I’m confident that scientists will better understand how to promote healthy colonies. In addition, encouraging native bee populations, such as bumblebees and leaf cutter bees, can only enhance pollination services in natural landscapes and in our gardens.

What can individuals do in their own back yard to protect pollinators?

Minimizing the use of pesticides is an easy and important step. There are nearly 4,000 species of native ground or twig-nesting bees in the United States and they’re often impacted by pesticides in our backyards and public spaces. If you choose to use any pesticide, strategic application of the chemicals can help avoid widespread death of beneficial insects. Almost anyone can encourage pollinators by making conscious choices to foster native plants that provide nectar (high in sugar and amino acids) and pollen (high in protein) for bees as well as butterflies, moths, or hummingbirds. Local garden shops can provide suggestions for plants that promote pollinator populations, as does the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (web: www.nappc.org).

Industry pretends not to know why bees are in trouble.


What can individuals do in the realm of consumer choices and political lobbying to increase protection of insect pollinators?

Consumers can choose to buy local foods grown via sustainable, and possibly organic, farming techniques; these types of farms typically minimize the use of organophosphate chemicals and have natural communities of insects nearby. Working with local groups to help reduce the introduction of noxious chemicals in our communities is also a step in the right direction. Writing to your elected government officials and explaining the importance of bee populations might also increase protection of pollinators. Finally, by learning more about where our foods come from can help in fostering public awareness of the importance of bees. Education matters! A good place to start is our book: “Why Do Bees Buzz? Fascinating Answers to Questions about Bees,” published by Rutgers University Press.

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Last modified on Monday, 15 October 2012 18:33

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