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Why are bees important to us?

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The words: “save the bees!” have been on everyone’s lips, but why are bees so important to us? Why should we be worried about them? And, how can we help?

Bee seen pollinating a yellow flower

Why do we need bees?

1. Bees are important for food production

As you might know, bees are pollinators, meaning that they a type of animal/insect that spreads pollen from one plant to another as they buzz from one plant to the next. And this process is essentially what allows plants to be fertilized and to reproduce.

But what you probably didn’t know is that bees don’t just make honey – one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees for a successful harvest. All by themselves bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants and over 90 of its leading crops. And as the world needs to increase food production to feed more people, bees are essential role players. Pollination increases the amount of agricultural production, improves its quality and enhances plants’ resistance to other pests.

It might sound bizarre, but research also shows that without bees, we can say bye to specific foods such as apples, almonds, oranges, zucchinis and avocados that rely on pollination by bees.

2. Bees are important to the economy

Colony of honey bees in their hive.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment estimates around $235-577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on pollinators’ contribution. And of these pollinators, managed honey bees are the most valuable pollinators in terms of agricultural economics.

Honey and other bee by-products such as beeswax, propolis, and honey bee venom are more than a by-product of pollination, but have economic value in their own right. These products form important ingredients in the commercial and cosmetic sectors and appear in skin creams, lip balms, lotions and toothpaste and also in wound dressings in the healthcare sector.

3. Bees are important for biodiversity and the environment

Bees are important to maintain ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. As pollinators they provide one of the most vital services to the ecosystem which makes food production and food security possible. Bees and other pollinators through the process of pollination further maintain biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems for plants, animals and humans.

And don’t forget about the beautiful flowers they allow to blossom and continue to thrive. About 80 percent of flowering plants depend on pollination. If this process stops, not only could we lose beautiful plants, but also food for us, birds, and all of the other animals that depend on plants for food.

What is threatening them?

Despite the important roles that bees and other pollinators play, they are under threat because the current species extinction rates of bees are extremely higher than normal due to human impacts.

Bees have become threatened by changes in land use which has led to a large-scale degradation of their habitats, but the most imminent threat is the use of certain pesticides. Neonicotinoids in particular are some of the most harmful pesticides to bees which attack the insect’s nervous system which can lead to instantaneous death, but also disorientation that causes them to forget they back to the hive.

Evidence has shown that global warming is one of the key drivers behind the global decline of bees. Not only has higher temperatures, droughts, floods, other extreme climate events and changes of flowering times caused a disruption to the ecosystem which they form part of, but it has also affected their genetics and behaviours.

How can you help?

  • Support organic farmers who do not use chemicals on their crops.
  • Support your local beekeeper.
  • Spread the word about bee conservation and their declining population to your friends, family and colleagues.
  • Be good to bees – don’t fear and kill them unnecessarily.
  • Join local initiatives dedicated towards helping bee colonies.

Did you know?

  • There are more than 20 000 known species of bees worldwide.
  • A beehive can have anywhere from 20 000 to 80 000 bees in it.
  • 90% of bees do not live in beehives and have queens like honey bees, but are solitary and build there nests in the ground, stems of plants, or in cracks and holes in walls or wood.
  • Bees can become aggravated by certain sound frequencies and higher temperatures.

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