About 12 years ago, Earthwatch Institute scientists brought it to our attention that bees are absolutely invaluable to our well-being. And not to mention, indispensable for the health of the planet. This is all fine and dandy, but recent studies further sound the alarm: without bees, we might be in trouble. And unfortunately, bees are in the throes of depreciation.
Of course, no one likes an alarmist (unless you have some weird love for anxiety), but scientists say we need to wake up and start taking the decline of bee populations seriously. We, meaning us Earthly animals, are all part of an intricate ecological system, where every player, no matter how small, plays a role in the system’s health.
Ok… Why Are They So Important?
Over 100 million years of evolution have sculpted the bee to do a couple of things really, really well. First, the bee is an incredible survival machine. They deploy their sophisticated hardware and software to navigate the world, cooperate socially, get grub, reproduce, and then pass their genes to the next generation.
Honestly, the list of incredible things these little guys can do goes on and on. But one thing stands out for sure. When looking for juicy pollen (which is what they eat), they navigate vast distances using the sun as guidance. And through chemical signals, they relay some kind of map to their peers so that they too can find that yummy chow.
Ok, so we took a quick glance at the bee’s day job: survival. But how do they fit into the bigger portrait of Mother Nature? Well, in short, they pollinate many of the plants that we depend on for food. Pollination is the process whereby pollen is transported – by wind or by animal – from female plants to male plants. This process enables fertilization, which in turn makes plants grow and reach maturity. Without this process, plants don’t grow!
Many animals and insects have tickets to the pollination party, but without bees, scientists say we can kiss about 75% of our favorite eats goodbye. No more apples, lettuce, beans, cucumbers, or onions, to just a few from a long list of bee-dependent plants.
Another issue to take into consideration is that bees are essentially Earth’s oldest sweets suppliers. Imagine that you are a grizzly bear wandering through the woods. You just feasted on some delicious salmon, and now you want desert. What are your options? You can’t exactly hit up your local Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. So your default options are probably berries or honey. But without bees, both these delicacies are off the table.
So bees’ contribution to nature’s treats is twofold. They directly produce honey, which is the world’s oldest natural sweetener, and they pollinate many berries.
How Come Bees Are Declining?
According to experts in the beezneez, there are a couple of reasons. First, bees are often at risk of being affected by the pesticides used in industrial farming. Chemicals used on some crops are consumed by bees when they pollinate, and this can negatively impact the bees’ health.
Second, globalization and technology are responsible for causing bees some trouble. For example, cellular or radio signals can interfere with the signals bees use to communicate.
This can mess things up for them. Imagine what you would do if your phone calls and text messages got screwed up when you’re trying to live your life and get by. Or worse, imagine some random noise cutting you off every time you turn to talk to your family, friends, or coworkers.
Now that the world is getting closer to being a “global village”, sometimes foreign pathogens or bacteria are introduced to regions in which they don’t belong. This can wreak havoc on the flora and fauna of the regions that the foreign species “invade”.
Well, What Can We Do About It?
Sometimes talking about bees and their decline can feel a little dire. But don’t lose hope! Every creature, including us hairy bipeds, plays a role in nature. But in many ways, we humans transcend the roles nature’s playwrights cast for us.
We build cities, develop technology, and alter our environment in a way that other animals do not. Thus we should go above and beyond, and go out of our way to help the bees, who clearly help us.
Here are a few things you can do at home to help. Instead of mowing the lawn, you can let the weeds and plants grow long. Try to avoid using pesticides and other chemicals that target plants. Keep a little garden where you can plant flowers (essentially, you’d be opening up a restaurant for the bees.) Support your local bees by buying local produce. And last but not least, just bee informed, and keep up with what the experts are saying.
When we say “don’t lose hope”, we mean it. Look at Berlin, for example. Berliners have tried hard to nurture their bees, and they have been successful to a remarkable degree. Now they actually have “too many” bees buzzing all over the city!