What Bees Pollinate And Their Importance To Human Agriculture

what bees pollinate

Understanding what bees pollinate is the key to helping people comprehend the necessity of protecting the future of our crops and maintaining wild and commercial bee health. With education on how pollination works and the crops that could be lost without adequate bee populations to pollinate them, beekeepers and laypersons alike can take measures to protect this unique animal and help its populations thrive. The population of bees around the world has been on the decline


What is Bee Pollination?

Why is Bee Pollination Important?

What Bees Pollinate?


There are two factors that are believed to be the major contributors to decreased pollination and bee prevalence.

Colony Collapse Disorder

what bees pollinate

In just the past ten years, over 40 percent of bee colonies in the United States have been ravaged by Colony Collapse Disorder. When a colony is in the grips of the disorder it is believed worker bees become so disoriented they are unable to find their way back to the hive. The ones who do return die at the hive. In most cases, the majority of the female workers simply never return. The end result is a hive with excess food storage, a queen, and only a small number of nurse bees who continue to care for the brood that remains.

Varroa Mite

what bees pollinate

The other factor that affects healthy bee pollination includes the Varroa Mite. Introduced into Florida sometime in the 1980's, the Varroa Mite is a parasite that attacks the outside of adult honeybees and their brood. The mite not only shortens the life of the adult bees, affected brood can be born so deformed they cannot function. Often emerged brood will lack legs or wings.


The reality of maintaining healthy pollination by bees is twofold. First, wild bees need to have stable undisturbed places to nest.  They also need sunny undeveloped patches of forage area with rich plant diversity and flowers that have nutrient-rich pollen and nectar.  Diversity is key because the larger the plant diversity, the more bee species that will be attracted to the forage site/s.  While we often focus on honey bees, all varieties of bees are important.

A major risk factor to the diversity of both plant and bee species is a fragment of wild, uncultivated forage areas.  The lack of continuous appropriate forage causes the decrease in bee pollination which in turn causes flowering plants to minimally reproduce.  The problem feeds back into itself because, with fewer plants, there is a lowered food supply available to bees. By leaving wild areas such as fields, ditches, roadsides, and woodland edges untreated and undisturbed, we can conserve wild bee populations.

Second, for domesticated populations, we must remember that while all chemical insecticides are harmful, the toxic impact various ones have on bee species varies. Prevention measures to ensure bees do not carry contaminated pollen back to their colonies, where it can be introduced into the hive's food supply, is critical.  Even chemical insecticides harmless to bees may repel them, as they have a highly sensitive olfactory system.

Farmers have to be pragmatic when choosing insecticides, especially in developing countries who may not withstand adverse production impact as easily.  That said, the more targeted the insecticide, the greater its expense to the farmer.  Where ideal options are scarce, biological pesticides may be a viable option. Timing insecticide application plays a crucial role in the process as well.

Choosing to spray in the late evenings, when bees are less active, gives the chemicals time to degrade and reduces the risk to colonies.  Beekeepers and growers must partner to discuss the measures necessary for both crop pollination and bee colony protection. It's arguably such dialog is even more relevant when dealing with GM crops.

The topic of bee pollination has many layers.  The bee species best suited to pollinate a given crop vary.  Different bee species have behavioral variations, and what bees pollinate vary in their pollination needs.  The weight is on the shoulders of farmers and beekeepers alike.  Enhancing the effectiveness of crop pollination and protection of bee colonies benefits us all.


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