There are about 20,000 bee species worldwide, over 1500 bee species in California. Bees do most of the pollination on earth, but not all. Perhaps 200,000 species of flowering plants depend in part on bee pollination. If you see a pretty, sweet-smelling blue or yellow-flowered plant, it probably depends on bee pollination.
If all bees were gone, almost all of these flowering plants would go extinct. We’d still have grasses and most nontropical trees. But the world would be less colorful, and of course, all the animals and fungi that depend upon those flowering plants would also be in difficult straits.
Now if honeybees went extinct, it would cause some temporary disruptions, especially in human agroecosystems, but there are lots of alternative bees: bumblebees, sweat bees, Carpenter bees, stingless bees, etc. The world would go back to normal pretty quickly … except for our honeybee-pollinated crops such as almonds. It would take a little time and some adjustments to our land management to restore native bee populations to do the job.
Einstein said, “remove the bee from the earth and at the same stroke you remove at least one hundred thousand plants that will not survive.”
The image is trying to emphasize the importance of bees to not only the ecosystem but also to humans and our economies. We often take bees for granted, not knowing how these social insects impact many of our daily lives.
Introduction to the colony’s structure:
Within the colony, there is a queen, several thousand workers, and a couple of hundred drones. In a wild colony, it is much smaller, one queen with a few dozen workers and a couple of drones. The queen’s main role is to lay eggs, up to 1,500 eggs a day, ensuring that the colony continues with new batches of young bees to replace the ones that die. The worker bees handle every possible chore needed to keep the colony alive, including gathering nectar, building combs, protecting from invaders, keeping the hive tidy, raising the brood, and everything else that is necessary. The only males, the drone bees, are simply there to pass on the genes to future generations of bees by mating with queen bees from other colonies, dying shortly afterward. Based on this social system, every part has its role in the survival of the bee population. I would argue that the workers, playing the biggest role are the ones that impact the colony the most if their population significantly declined.
What is causing them to decline in population?
There has been increasing mono culturing of many crops, loss of biodiversity in the plants from which the bees feed, which causes their immune system to decline. By feeding on multiple sources, the bees produce more glucose oxidase, which defends them from microbes and diseases as well as preserve honey. In addition, plants are being genetically modified to be pesticide-resistant and others are using pesticide, in either case, the neonicotinoids are toxic to bees, lowering their immune system and makes them confused, disorients them so that many don’t make it back to the hive. The ones that make it back to the hive bring back the contaminated pollen and nectar, where it is exposed to the rest of the colony. In addition, the changing climates are especially brutal to the bees. The cold nights during early spring cause many bees and brood to die, slowing down the process of increasing their numbers in preparation for the peak pollen gathering season. All of these factors have contributed to what is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is a term used to describe colonies of bees that have died or left for no apparent reason, even when there is still honey left in the hive.
How do they affect the Ecosystem?
The biggest contribution to the ecosystem for bees is their pollinator abilities. It occurs when the bees land on one plant to gather nectar and the pollen grains get stuck on their legs or bodies, then the bees travel to other plants in doing so carry the pollen to fertilize the ovaries of the plant. This allows the plant to produce seeds that will become the next generation of plants. In addition, bees tend to focus on one species at a time, a process of cross-pollination, which increases the chances of getting pollen from the same species in order to produce viable seeds.
If the survival of these plants become unstable due to the decline in bees, then the effects travel further up the food chain affect animals that eat the plants and the carnivores and omnivores even higher up. For example, about 15 to 20 percent of a black bear’s diet comes from bees, honey, and bee-pollinated plants such as fruits, nuts, and berries.
A big drop in the bear’s diet may cause it to roam further to find other food. With some many other animals, including herbivores such as deers and rabbits, also eating fruits, nuts, and berries, food will be even more scarce. Ultimately, many animal populations may decline as food becomes less available. There’s the argument that perhaps other pollinators might pick up where the bees left off, but the sad reality is that pesticides and herbicides are also killing other pollinators too. Butterfly and bird populations have decreased as well, so hoping that another type of pollinator can replace the bees seems unlikely when they are all dying from the same cause.
How does this affect humans?
There are great economic effects with the decline of bee populations. Bees pollinate so much of our crops. In fact, bees are often the pollinators that people rent to get their fields pollinated. This moves the bees from one ecosystem to another, oftentimes to areas where there are less or inadequate amounts of pollinators to ensure that all the crops bear fruit. The agricultural industry would collapse without these valuable bees. In Alabama, just a single southeastern blueberry bee pollinates 50,000 blueberry flowers and generates $75 in one year. That was just one bee, imagine the productivity of an entire colony of bees with thousands of workers. An estimate of the added value of the honeybees when there is a lack of native pollinators is $8.3 billion.
Not only do they affect the economy but also our food supplies. The USDA estimates that in 2013, the annual US consumption of honey was 450 million pounds of honey. It’s a lot of honey that is irreplaceable if the bee population continues to decline since it is a product made exclusively by bees. There is a decrease in crops we eat that are pollinated by bees, but not only that, the alfalfa eaten by livestock is also affected. This could put a dent in the meat available for consumption.
In conclusion, bees are an irreplaceable part of the ecosystem. Even if we tried to replace them with other pollinators such as butterflies and birds, the same pesticides are also killing them too. Instead, we should focus on the real problem at hand and try to reduce pesticide use, mono culturing of plants, and everything else that is contributing to the decreasing bee population. These bees affect so many plants and animals that if they all died, then as the picture mentioned they would certainly take all of them (plants and animal populations) down too.