To Bee or Not to Bee a Protector of the Honey Bee

"Non-bee pollinators play a major role in global crop production, and they’re not as affected by environmental changes as bees." 

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If you absolutely, positively, cannot bear the thought of living in a world without honey then the answer is yes. Yes, you should bee a protector of the honey bee.

On the other hand, if never eating honey again for the rest of your life would not cause you to skip a beat then according to research, honey bees do not need your protection. At least not to the levels that are currently being displayed.

Now you’re thinking well what about apples, mangos, plums, peaches, nectarines, guava, pomegranates, pears, black and red currants, alfalfa, okra, strawberries, cherries, celery, coffee, walnut, cotton, lychee, etc. You know, all the other fruits and vegetables that rely on the honey bee for pollination? What happens to them?

It turns out that there are other insects other than bees that are valuable pollinators too. More on that below so keep reading.

Yes, the honey bee population is declining. If you are not a scientist or an apiarist (proper name for a beekeeper) you know this mainly because of the “This is what your grocery would look like images.” 

The decline in the honey bee population is being attributed to the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Colony Collapse Disorder as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.

What is Causing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)? 

A study conducted by the University of Florida’s (UF) Entomology and Nematology Department and The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) has found the following possible causes for CCD.

  • Poor bee management.
  • Poor genetic diversity as only a few breeder queens are used to produce queen bees.
  • Chemicals used to treat bee diseases and pests have been found to have sub-lethal effects even when used according to the label and management recommendations.
  • Chemical toxins in the environment that bees are exposed to while foraging, drinking contaminated water, or by inhaling them directly.
  • Varroa mites, the viruses they transmit, and the chemical treatment they require are destructive honey bee killer.
  • Malnutrition causes stress to bees, possibly weakening their immune systems.
  • Traditional bee pests and diseases
  • Unidentified or recently introduced pests and pathogens that are harmful to honey bees.

How Concerned Should You Be about the Declining Honey Bee Population?

As noted earlier, lovers of honey should be extremely concerned. So too should communities who get their main income from honey.

When it comes to the pollination of fruits and vegetables though, a study reveals that maybe, things are not as dire as they have been made to appear.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Romina Rader. Dr. Rader is a lecturer in Community Ecology (Plant-Animal Interactions) at the School of Environmental and Rural Science of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

The study concluded that “non-bee pollinators play a major role in global crop production, and they’re not as affected by environmental changes as bees.” Those non-bee pollinators include flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats. Furthermore,

Furthermore, “while bees rely on habitats that support their host plants and nesting sites, non-bee insects are less affected by the loss of their natural habitats. That likely makes their services more robust to anthropogenic land use changes – which is thought to be one of the main drivers of bee declines.”

When it comes to pollination, honey bees were always the focus. This study looked into the potential of other pollinators with regards to crop production.

The study found that “Non-bee insects were less effective pollinators than bees per flower visit, but they made more visits to flowers than bees. So overall, they offered similar total pollination services: Honey bees make up 39 percent, non-bees make up 38 percent, and other bees accounted for 23 percent.” 

The Impact of Honey Bees on Wildlife

Science (the magazine and not the subject), says that current honey bee conservation efforts can lead to a negative impact on wildlife for the following reasons.

  • Honey bees can harm wild pollinator species.
  • Honey bees are linked to the spread of diseases to wild pollinators via shared flowers.
  • Honey bees can also have a negative impact on the reproductive success of wild plants.
  • Honey bees can even depress non-pollinator species – for example, the threatened Lear’s Macaw in Brazil, which competes with honey bees for nest sites in rock cavities.

Their view is that declining honey bee populations, therefore, should be an agricultural concern as opposed to being an environmental concern. They say that “Honey bees may be necessary for crop pollination, but beekeeping is an agrarian activity that should not be confused with wildlife conservation.”