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Why Are Honey Bees Important for the Environment?

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Why Are Honey Bees Important for the Environment?

Most of us aren’t fans of being stung or bitten by insects.  Ultra-painful bee stings?  No thanks.   

If you’ve ever been the victim of an apparently unprovoked attack, you’ve probably wondered what the big deal is about bees.  Why is killing one considered environmental sacrilege on par with tossing plastic bags into the ocean?

At Well Bee, we love bees – and not just because they make honey.  It turns out that these tiny winged insects are actually responsible for maintaining the health of our planet in several different ways.  

In this article, we’re going to walk you through exactly why bees are so important, and why you shouldn’t slap one out of the air because you think it might sting you.  We’ll cover concepts like pollination, genetic diversity and the role bees play in various ecosystems.  

In fact, by the time you’re finished reading, we’re pretty sure you’ll be as keen as we are to preserve the lives of these furry little creatures.           

Bees Pollinate Plants

The most important thing bees do for the environment is pollinate different plants.

When bees forage for nectar and pollen, they’ll normally push past the pollen-bearing structures (anthers) of flowers, which covers their fur in tiny pollen particles.  As they visit other flowers and brush past other anthers, they spread existing pollen particles and accidentally pick up new ones.

This is how bee pollination works, and it’s the main reproductive mechanism for many different plants.  Some ancient plants (like grasses and conifers) have their pollen carried by the wind, while other plants are self-fertilising or reliant on pollinators like birds, bats, and other bugs, but the vast majority of the world’s pollination is carried out by bees. 

Do all bees pollinate?

Yes, all species of bees pollinate!  Honey bees are important, but other bees, like solitary bees and native Australian bees, are also great pollinators.  In fact, studies have shown that natural assemblages of wild bees can be better at pollinating than honey bees.

Native bees can also perform a type of pollination called ‘buzz pollination’.  Roughly 15,000–20,000 plants around the world need their anthers vibrated to release pollen, including crops like tomatoes and potatoes.  Honey bees can’t perform buzz pollination, while many native Australian bees can.        

Consequences of Poor Pollination

When there aren’t enough bees to properly pollinate an area, the environment suffers.

Lack of Genetic Diversity

Plants and most other living things rely on genetic diversity to evolve and survive as a species.

Without the cross-pollination provided by bees, plants have less diverse genes, resulting in weaker species that are more prone to being wiped out by other evolutionary pressures, like climate change and pollution.     

Lack of Food for Other Species

Many animals – including humans – rely on plants that have been pollinated by bees for food.  When there aren’t enough bees to pollinate these species, they’re less likely to reproduce, resulting in less food for the bugs and animals that feed on them.

This can cause a ripple effect across ecosystems – as specialised bug and animal species die out or migrate due to lack of food, the creatures that feed on them will also die out, move away, or start eating other remaining species.

The end result?  Seriously damaged or destroyed ecosystems.     

Bees Are a Food Source

It’s also easy to forget that, despite their roles as premier honey producers, bees are actually food themselves!  Many types of birds eat bees, as do other bugs like wasps, spiders and dragonflies.  

While most bee-eating creatures have other food sources too, taking bees out of the equation means these predators will place more pressure on other prey species.  This increased pressure means prey species may decline in number, which can lead to a population explosion among the species that they eat.

Ecosystems are complex concepts, but the bottom line is that bees are an important food source for several other species.  

Conclusion

Convinced that bees need to be protected?  We hope so.

Bees do things like create genetic diversity in plants, pollinate essential plant species, and provide food for other creatures.  They’re lynchpins of the natural world, and it’s not an overstatement to say that bees are mostly responsible for keeping the planet alive.   

Without bees, we’d be in serious trouble, so, next time you spot one of these furry critters, don’t swat or spray them.  Instead, take a moment to reflect on the fact that they’re the ones responsible for the beauty of flowers, the shade of trees, and even most of the vegetables on your plate.     

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Duncan Croker

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