Honeybees together with wild bees are the most important pollinators of the vegetables and fruits we eat. They have thrived in amazing harmony on this planet for 50 million years. Out of 100 crop species that make up 90% of our global food supply, 71 are pollinated by bees.
How would you like to live without apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions or oranges? We know, we would not like it either.
Bees travel from flower to flower to gather their food. They get all protein they need from floral pollen, and all carbohydrates they need from floral nectar. In this process, they also transfer pollen between same floral species and make pollination happen.
During the last several years, a new phenomenon started to threaten the world’s agriculture:
Honeybee colonies are disappearing at frightening rates!
Sadly, bee populations are declining throughout the world at alarming rates.
In 2006, it was recorded the first mass disappearance of honeybee colonies in North America and Europe caused by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is a societal syndrome that occurs when worker bees suddenly abandon their colony and disappear.
Prior to 2006, beekeepers have seen normal losses in the populations of their hives to be around 5 to 10% a year. After 2006, this number increased to around 30% . Some beekeepers have even lost entire colonies at once. Such an alarming rate of decline has been seen all over Europe, Asia, and the Unites States.
What is happening to bees?
It is normal for some bee colonies to die over the course of a year. A tolerable rate of colony loss reported by beekeepers in 2015 was 18.7%. The worrying part is that the rate of bees dying in recent years is significantly higher.
According to the annual bee survey carried out by the University of Maryland, over 40% of US honeybee colonies died between April 2018 and April 2019.
Scientists have been trying to identify exactly why bees have been disappearing and have looked at causes like insecticides, parasites, viruses, malnutrition and other environmental factors but have been unsuccessful at identifying the exact cause.
A study published in 2014 from Harvard University sheds more light on the mysterious disappearing of honeybees.
The researchers monitored 18 bee colonies at three locations in central Massachusetts from October 2013 until April 2013. Four colonies at each location were receiving regularly a treatment with realistic doses of neonicotinoids (the world’s most widely used class of insecticides), while six hives remained untreated.
Bees from 6 of the 12 treated colonies were completely wiped out and only 1 colony from the untreated hives was lost as a results of infection by a parasitic fungus called Nosema.
The results from this study not only replicate findings from the previous study, but also reinforce the conclusion that the sublethal exposure to neonicotinoids is likely the main culprit for the occurrence of CCD.— Chensheng et al. (2014)
Many research journals reveal clearly that our current regulations and practices meant to protect the bees that pollinate much of our food are not effective at all.
Another report published in the journal Nature demonstrates that bees are twice as likely to die when exposed to pesticides and they are also less successful in gathering food.
Other possible causes of these sudden high losses could be the habitat destruction and increasing trend of crop monoculture. With the exact reason unknown, many are concerned that bee populations could be unable to recover.
What would happen if honeybees went extinct?
There are a wide variety (around 25,000) of different kinds of bee species in the world, including all species ranging from solitary bees, bumblebees and honeybees. These species can be divided into around 4,000 genera, 9 families, and are all within the superfamily of Apoidea .
You might be surprised to know that, although small, bees are oftentimes underestimated for their importance in the world. Bees are some of the hardest workers out there. Thanks to them we can explore the diversity of tastes ranging from goods like coffee, or chocolate, all the way to yummy fruits such as kiwis, or oranges. The role of bees in our food production system is irreplaceable.
Bees provide us with a variety of benefits including making wax and securing our food diversity. One of the most important reasons bees are important is due to their efficient work as pollinators.
Why does pollination matter?
Pollination is what gives the amazing biodiversity to natural ecosystems on Earth. Pollination supports our health and modern life as well.
Through pollination our food is grown. In fact, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of agricultural crops and fruits need directly or indirectly pollination to produce food for our consumption throughout the world. These crops include fruits like apples, vegetables like broccoli and all kinds of nuts .
Additionally, bees also contribute indirectly to other food sources including dairy and meat by pollinating the grass and clover used to feed milk cows and other livestock used as meat sources.
Furthermore, not only do bees secure food production, they also significantly contribute to the economy. Total value of pollination services exceeds the value of products like honey and wax we get directly from bees. For example, in developed countries, the value of pollination rises up to 50 times above the value of honey and wax harvest, while in some regions in Africa, this number can be up 100 times higher .
Overall, throughout the world, bee populations are on the decline. However, bees provide us with a free, indispensable service that would be difficult to recover if it was lost. While we still can, we need to make choices to help bee populations worldwide.
Things you can do to help save bees
The world needs bees and their precious work, and it is in our interest to prevent further loss of their colonies.
Here is what you can do:
#1 Open a bee restaurant!
In many places where intensive agriculture based on monoculture prevails, honeybees depend on flowers grown in gardens to enrich their diet and collect enough of nectar and pollen to secure their livelihood.
Invite these precious pollinators to your garden by planting flowers they like. Especially attractive are flowers with bright colors, such as yellow, pink, blue or white.
Perfect examples of bee-friendly plants are:
- Winter Honeysuckle
- Foxgloves 
When deciding on which kind of plants to put in your garden, make sure to combine early blossoming plants with the late blossoming ones, as different bee species have a different level of seasonal activity. And even if you do not have a garden, you can still keep flowers on a windowsill to brighten your days and to nourish bees in your neighborhood.
#2 Pesticides are not a solution
Pesticides are harmful for the environment and our health, but they are even worse for bees. The use of pesticides can have devastating impacts on a bee colony, causing loss of orientation, disabling bee workers from finding their way back to the hive, or even leading directly to their death.
Pesticides are especially dangerous when sprayed on flowers in bloom because this way the chemicals fall on the pollen and nectar, where they get in the direct contact with bees. Bee workers take them unconsciously to the hives and produce honey with this unwanted chemical burden, making it unhealthy even for us.
If you want to save the bees and help decrease levels of pesticide pollution look first for natural alternatives to get rid of pests, such as providing a shelter to small birds like finches, who eat insects, or use traps to catch for example flies and mosquitoes .
#3 Become a bee host
A safe place to live is important especially for a solitary species of bees. In contrast to honeybees which have a special hierarchy within their colonies, wild bee species seek a safe shelter in many places, such as deserted animal burrows, cracks in tree trunks, rotting logs, or small openings in other natural materials.
It is an easy job to create a little bee hotel by drilling holes into a piece of wood mounted above the ground, or in a dead tree that’s standing in your neighborhood. You can find many creative ideas to make it look both functional and pretty on the internet.
#4 Get new friends and a new hobby of beekeeping
This is certainly not for every person. But becoming a beekeeper comes with advantages. You are carrying on a very rewarding practice and you are able to produce never ending honey for your whole family.
In some countries, local beekeeping associations organize training sessions to encourage new people to join them. Or you can try to reach out to an experienced beekeeper from your neighborhood for advice.
If it is not possible for you to explore the joy of beekeeping, but would like to help these incredible little workers, you can ‘adopt a hive’. Finding a good spot to place hives can be quite a challenge especially in urban areas. That’s where you can help, if you have an unused piece of land on your property. Get in touch with a local beekeeper or beekeeping association to give it a try.
#5 Set your focus on local
When possible always buy locally produced honey rather than mass-produced supermarket brands. You will help the environment by reducing the distance the product needs to travel to reach the supermarket’s shelves and support local beekeepers.
Local honey is not treated to look better on a shelf and tastes different than supermarket honey because its flavor reflects local flora. In addition, supporting small beekeepers is important to help decrease environmental degradation. Economic development and dying bee populations carry a high level of risk for small beekeepers, but we still depend on their work to have our crops and gardens pollinated.
As we continue to progress in the modern world, we create a vicious environment that is not sustainable and where the final consequences are very much neglected. This doesn’t just reflect how we respect mother nature but also shows our mental ability to operate as a whole. The disappearance of honeybees is another lesson for us to ask, “What on Earth Is Going On with Humanity?”
As we need our food to be clean for us and our kids, so do our pollinators. Dying bees send a desperate message to us that they are not able to survive anymore in our agricultural and urban environments.