A bee on a flower.
Sustainability
Opinion Article
May 13, 2021

The importance of bees on our planet

And the human-made impact on the bee's lives

Insect pollinators are a key element for the equilibrium of the ecosystems that surround us. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), around 75  % of the world's crop-producing fruits and seeds for human consumption are dependent, at least in part, on pollinators. But what is pollination? In simple terms, pollina-tion is the movement of genetic material in the form of pollen grains that come from the male reproductive part of a plant to the female reproductive part of a plant. Upon the two's meeting, a plant's seed or fruit is formed. Some plants can pollinate themselves, while oth-ers need the help of abiotic agents such as wind and water or the help of animal pollina-tors. Among these animal pollinators are bees, which are very efficient pollinators due to their ability to communicate the location of flower resources to their nestmates.

Bees are an important group of insect pollinators because they are responsible for pollinat-ing around 60 to 70 % of the world's total flowering plant species, and this is crucial in maintaining biodiversity. Without pollinators, many plants could not seed and reproduce; and without plants to provide pollen and nectar, many animal populations would decline.

Pollinator-dependent crops are five times more valuable than those that do not need polli-nation. Consequently, the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, is one of the most economi-cally valuable pollinators of crops worldwide. This species is found in a wide variety of environments, and in fact, it is a species that has shown great adaptive potential. This last characteristic is fundamental when we witness the effects of climate change.

European Honeybee, Apis mellifera

According to FAO, extinction rates for pollinators have jumped to 100 to 1000 times the normal rates. Approximately 40 % of invertebrate pollinators such as bees and butterflies are facing extinction worldwide, but especially in Europe and North America. This de-crease may be caused by many factors such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, pathogens, eva-sive species, climate change, and, lastly, urbanization. However, in the future, climate change is expected to have a major role in the decline of bee populations worldwide due to both changes in temperature and general meteorological conditions.

Acacia flower

Other species that will suffer greatly because of climate changes are the bumblebees. If climate conditions change more frequently than the species' historically observed toleranc-es, their occupancy and richness will decline. Temperature and precipitation can directly and indirectly affect bumblebees; directly affecting the species' mortality and fecundity, indirectly changes the floral resources. According to a study on pollinator decline, the probability of site occupancy has declined on average 46 % in North America and 17 % in Europe relative to the period between 1901 and 1974.

Bumblebee

Another aspect that is worth mentioning is the bees, especially honeybees, impact on eco-nomics. According to FAO, the volume of agricultural production dependent on pollinators has increased by 300 % between 1968 and 2018. Cocoa and coffee are two examples of crops produced with pollination, and these provide income for family farms, especially in developing countries. Moreover, with the increasing commercial value of honey, bees are becoming a growing generator of income. The value that bees bring to humans is beyond the food that we eat. Some species provide materials such as beeswax for candles and mu-sical instruments.

As previously mentioned, urbanization has an impact on the lifespan of bees. Neverthe-less, this impact is not straightforwardly negative. City parks and little gardens on apart-ment balconies provide bees with diverse pastures throughout the year. Urban beekeeping is valuable for the environment because bees take care of natural ecosystems. This con-trasts with monocultural practices that are one of the worst threats to wild bees because they do not promote biodiversity.

While beekeepers and farmers can protect bees that are important for their economic activi-ties, such as honeybees, they can endanger wild species with their practices. Hence, it is essential to protect bees, especially wild bees, because they enrich biodiversity on our planet. I believe that a stronger relationship between conservation in urban and rural areas will be necessary.

Mariana Santos, Melania Padolecchia

Mariana Santos, Melania Padolecchia

Oikos International Student Club Lisbon

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