In general, the knowledge what we have about bees is related to the honey production. And yes, honey has beneficial properties for us – it is therapeutic and nutritious – but it is not the main “product” they offer us.
Thanks to your “work”, we have countless other foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes … And the thing is bees are the main agents of “pollination” of many of our crops. Not only the most familiar bee, Apis mellifera, which produces honey; there are many others that are also important for being pollinators. That is, the importance of bees is in the mandatory dependence on many plants for them to visit and pollinate them.
Pollination: the sexual life of plants
The easiest way to describe pollination is like a trip; the trip to be made pollen to ovum. The pollen is the male cell –Equivalent to a sperm–. For his part, Ovum is the female cell of the plant –equivalent to a human ovule–. And, also as in humans, pollen and ovum must unite to produce a new individual –Each seed inside the fruits–.
No all plants have the ability to bind pollen with the ovule themselves. For that, they require the help of animals, of pollinators, of which, the most important are the bees.
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Pollination by bees
Pollination is a win-win relationship between bees and plants. Plants produce nectar Y pollen that serves as feed the bees. While searching for their food, the body of bees fills with pollen, which they take on a “trip” to a new plant they visit. In that way the plant also benefits.
The pollination process carried out by bees is very interesting. On the one hand, the plant offers the bee the pollen and the nectar as a “reward” for your services. But, in addition, it creates a dependence on offering your food sources. In other words, it is a somewhat interested relationship … In addition, attracts them. The colors bright yellows are very attractive for bees, but also attracts them the sweet smell of flowers.
Importance of bees: their relationship with crops
Many years ago, the importance of bees in pollination was undeniable: 70-80% of the insects that visited the crops corresponded to honey bees. However, today, bees have become vital due to the loss of other pollinating insects due to the progressive deterioration of natural ecosystems. Today, pollination by honey bees reaches 90-95% of animal visits to crops.
In addition to the close relationship they have established with plants, the importance of bees is related to their way of life. They live in colonies of approximately 60,000 individuals, which makes them true “armies” of women workers. Some 40,000 individuals go out every day between 15 and 20 times to look for pollen and nectar, visiting between 30 and 50 flowers. We are adding! Up to date, a colony was able to visit up to 700 hectares of crops, which represents millions of flowers and, consequently, of fruits and seeds. Impressive, right?
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There are so many crops that depend on bees for their pollination that it is almost easier to talk about those that do not. They pollinate fruit trees such as almond, peach, cherry, plum, apple and pear, but also strawberries, raspberry, blackberry, tomato, grape, melon, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, onion. In the case of the almond tree, the importance of bees is such that their absence produces greater losses than the lack of fertilizers or water.
Other important crops? Forage legumes, like alfalfa or clover; textile fibers, like linen or cotton; Y oil-producing plants, such as sunflower or rapeseed. Furthermore, its efficiency is such that, in greenhouses, honey bee hives are introduced to help with pollination of crops under controlled conditions.
Threats to which they are exposed
The importance of bees can also be seen in their value as bioindicators of ecosystem health. And sadly the excessive action of man on almost the entire planet has also reached these vital insects. In Europe, each year, between 20% and 35% of bees disappear, while in the United States this figure can reach 50%. It is a phenomenon that has been called “the collapse of hives”, because it has produced the death of millions of honey bees.
These numbers are known because it is an activity controlled by beekeepers. Nevertheless, not much idea how many wild species are affected or even have disappeared, although some estimates are alarming. It is believed that more than 9% are in danger of extinction and that this number may reach 15% in the coming years.
What is the threat to bees attributed to? Have been checked different causes acting together:
- Deterioration Y loss of habitats for bees.
- Diseases Y parasites that affect them, such as the Varroa destructor mite or the Acarapsis woodi parasite.
- Rise of your predators, like the Asian wasp, due to increase in invasive species.
- Displacement Y disappearance of many wild plants that serve as food.
- Indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides.
- Climate change.
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There are very interesting jobs looking raise awareness among citizens on the seriousness of the situation. Some are educational videos, such as Danger in the Hive, Bees in Crisis or Bees in Danger of Extinction. Knowing about the importance of bees for the planet and the risks that are run by their disappearance, allows us actively participate in the defense of those little great heroes.