When’s the last time you enjoyed a warm cup of coffee? Or a fresh fruit salad? Bees play a crucial role in the pollination of food items like these. Pollination is an essential process for the reproduction of flowering plants, in which pollen is transferred from the anther (male part) of one plant to the stigma (female part) of another. This process can be facilitated either by wind or by pollinators, including birds, bats, mammals, and insects. Bees not only pollinate 70 types of crops we consume (such as apples, coffee, and avocados), but they also pollinate many of the crops that livestock feed on (such as alfalfa, peas, and soya beans). Altogether, it is estimated that bees contribute over 300 million dollars to the economy each year.
A honeybee colony consists of one queen, a few hundred male drones, and more than ten thousand female workers. Surprisingly, the queen is the only female in the colony that reproduces. The male drones fertilize the queen and die shortly after mating. The female worker bees are vital members of the colony as they are the ones who forage for nectar, protect and care for the hive, and feed the growing larvae. While foraging, they pick up pollen from various flowers and transfer it to other flowers, which is how bees directly help in the pollination process of flowering plants.
For the past 10 years, bee populations have been declining. According to national surveys, 44 percent of bee colonies collapsed in 2016. During the winter, beekeepers in the United States lost more bees than the 15 percent threshold that they can tolerate to be able to properly restock during the year. Why? One explanation is colony collapse disorder (CCD), an occurrence in which the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind the hive and the queen. It is still not fully understood why this happens, but there are various hypotheses to explain these events. Several studies have found that many factors could cause CCD, such as parasitic infections, diseases, and pesticides. While CCD was thought to be a major contributor to the decline of bees back in 2007, today it no longer seems to be a major threat. Instead, the use of pesticides has become the major source for population declines today. Pesticides are substances designed to kill insects, and they are typically used in our crops and gardens. Recent declines in colonies have also been attributed to diseases, parasites and habitat loss.
Bees are essential to our environment, and the decline in their population can have a direct effect on the production of foods we consume on a daily basis. Looking towards solutions, we can all help promote the health of bees. You can try to reduce the amounts of pesticides you use or eliminate pesticide use altogether. You can buy organic or locally grown foods, which typically avoid the use of pesticides. You can plant some bee friendly flowers in your backyard, such as cosmos and lilacs, or buy local honey to support the local beekeepers. Small actions like these can help make a more favorable environment for bees and other pollinators as well. Bee the change that bees need.