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The birds, The Bees, and Why Nature Depends on these

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Pollinators keep humanity fed and they are now in big trouble.

A buffet of flowers by Shifa Petiwala

Honeybees are a fascinating and extremely beneficial insect species that practically support life as we know it on planet Earth. Bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food we consume. We need bees. These hardworking winged insects have been pollinating our plants for millennia. We may take them for granted, but they're critical to ensuring stable, healthy food sources and providing us with the diverse, colourful, and nutritious diets we require. Due to the severe depletion of these vital insects, a world without bees is tragically becoming more of a possibility. Because bees are such an important element of most ecosystems, the world would be in serious trouble if they went extinct.


Honey bees kept by beekeepers generate more than $6 million worth of delectable honey each year. Even though honey is a common food item, it is not the primary reason for the honey bee's importance. There are also a number of valuable non-food products produced by the honey bee, such as beeswax, royal jelly, bee pollen, beauty products and other hive products. Globally there are more honey bees than other pollinating insects, so they are the world’s most important pollinators of food crops. Many domestic and imported fruits and vegetables require pollination. They say that without bees, there will be no more nuts, coffee, cocoa, tomatoes, apples, or almonds, to name a few crops. Honey bees also pollinate clover and alfalfa, which are fed to cattle, so there are implications for the meat and dairy industry too. And that is not to mention the huge range of manufactured food products made from all these ingredients. Pollinating flowers and contributing to the beautification of the planet's floral landscapes may be the bees' simplest and least economically important activity, but it is unquestionably the most attractive.


Black and Brown Honey bees in an artificial hive making honey being handled by a beekeeper
Shown above is a colony of Honey Bees on an artificial hive. Photo by Bianca Ackermann.

Just like bees, even birds are important for pollination. Hummingbirds, orioles, and a variety of other flower-visiting birds do provide pollination service, although primarily to wildflowers. The birds help fertilize plants in the same way as any other pollinator—by transferring pollen (via their bills) from one flower to another as they flit between plants feeding on nectar. Bird pollination mainly occurs in tropical regions, where they help pollinate a few food crops, including bananas, papaya and nutmeg. While we may not eat the wildflowers, birds do. Birds carry the seeds they've eaten with them on their journeys and disseminate them through their droppings. They reintroduce plants to degraded habitats and even transport plants across the oceans to new land masses. Birds have influenced the plant life we observe in our own backyards — and around the planet.


Birds aren't recognised for pollinating food crops, but they're just as crucial since without them, many flowering plants would go extinct. Pollination by birds, bees, and other animals is required for two-thirds of all crops grown for human use, as well as the majority of wild plant species. Helping to protect pollinator habitats, not using pesticides, and planting flowers are just a few ways you can help make pollination possible while keeping some of your favourite foods on the dinner table.


Four green hummingbirds drink nectar from red flowers and pollinate them
Hummingbirds drinking nectar from flowers. Photo by James Wainscoat.

Bees are also rapidly becoming extinct. And not just Honey Bees, but all bees. There is no single explanation for the decline, although risks include land-use changes for agriculture or urbanisation, both of which result in habitat loss and degradation. Intensive agriculture also results in homogeneous landscapes and the extinction of various flora, diminishing food and nesting resources. Pesticides and other pollutants like insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides also can both directly and indirectly impact pollinators. Invasive alien species, such as the yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), and diseases, such as parasites, are particularly detrimental to honeybees. Another reason is the changing climate, which is characterised by higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather occurrences. Scientists are beginning to notice that climate change is affecting bee nesting behaviour and their ability to emerge after the winter. Climate change may be changing the timing of plant flowering, which bees rely on for food.


While scientists work to solve each of these issues, there are things we can do now to help save the bees: stop using bee-killing pesticides in parks, wildlife refuges, and other places where bees should be safe, and promote sustainable, pesticide-free agricultural practices. Plant native and bee-friendly plants in your garden. They are excellent providers of pollen and nectar (both food for the bees and butterflies). A broad and consistent food supply is critical for bees, just as it is for humans.


References

Sanctuary, N. Y. B. (2016, March 4). 10 ways you can help save the bees. New York Bee Sanctuary.


What are the causes of bee decline? (n.d.). Friends of the Earth. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from


What Do the Birds and the Bees Have to Do With Global Food Supply? (2016, July 14). Audubon.


Trust, W. (n.d.). Why are bees important? And how you can help them. Woodland Trust. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from

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