Photo by Jenna Lee | Source: Unsplash

Why Bees Are Critical To The Ecosystem

Our fuzzy little yellow friends are a family of insects with wings that closely resemble ants and wasps and include honey bees, solitary bees, bumblebees and many others. They represent one of the cornerstones of nature due to their responsibility of pollinating food crops. This process, termed pollination, is defined by the migration of pollen across different plants for the purposes of fertilization. When plants are successfully fertilized, they are able to produce seeds, fruits, and vegetables, amongst many other consumables that global food supplies rely on to exist.

In Europe, well over 800 species of wild bee exist, with up to 7 considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN). Of the rest, 46 are considered endangered, 24 are considered vulnerable, and 101 are considered near threatened. Although it is unlikely that all species of bee will be wiped out soon, the loss of the threatened species will significantly impact world pollination and destroy several plant species that humans rely on for sustenance.

These issues extend well beyond bees, however. While honeybees are responsible for encompassing about a third of crop pollination and a minute proportion of wild plant pollination, there exists a diverse catalog of other insects, including small flies, butterflies, and bumblebees, who perform the rest of the work.

Recent studies have suggested that up to 40% of the population of all insect species across the globe is in stark decline. In fact, insects now face rates of extinction that exceed vertebrates by 8 times the figure. German scientists have recorded up to 75% in losses for the total mass of insects residing in protected areas.

Such trends have led scientists to believe that a whopping 33% of all insect species, grossing at around 2 million, may be threatened by possible extinction. To make matters worse, this figure is growing by more than 100,000 per year. Unfortunately, hard data on threatened species is lacking, with barely 8,000 records accessible by the IUCN Red List.

The Dangers of Pesticides

Exposure to pesticides, in addition to general pollution, is a key cause of a decline in pollination. Three classifications of chemical pesticides are widely used in the United Kingdom. These include insecticides that target unwanted insect pests, fungicides that target crops’ fungal pathogens, and herbicides that target weeds.

Insecticides do not discriminate against pollinators, so they present a clear threat. Yet, they may not be the biggest issue, as herbicides are implemented up to 5 times more in farming. Such weed killers instead attack the wide variety of wild plants that need to be foraged by the bees.

Environmentally friendly schemes for farming specifically recommend planting strips of wildflowers on the edge of crops to provide food sources and safe refuge for pollinators. Sadly, drifting clouds containing herbicide in growing fields are at risk of contaminating these strips.

Some of the best research on the subject has suggested that the most commonly implemented weed killer known as glyphosate can actually affect the bees’ gut microbes and present a devastating impact on their health.

Neonicotinoids have seen widespread adoption in a variety of crops in addition to landscape plants. They are the most widely implemented insecticides in the world and have remained so for more than 10 years. Originally developed as alternatives to other existing insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that deeply affect the nervous system of not just insects but also other animals as well as humans.

Due to the fact that these systemic chemicals are directly absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids are often present in both nectar and pollen. Consequently, they are considered extremely toxic to the pollinators that tend to feed on them. The long-lasting presence of this chemical is useful to manage pests but makes it possible for the chemicals to harm pollinators. This danger is present even when the application of pollen is initialized weeks before the plants are scheduled to bloom. Furthermore, depending on the rate, compound, and method by which the chemical is applied, neonicotinoids have been found to persist even in the soil and consumed by plants for staggering periods of time.

Despite the fact that exposure to pesticides and herbicides on behalf of farmers is considered a primary cause of decline in pollinators, the chemicals utilized by civilian gardeners and city authorities may also harm bees.

Destruction of Habitats

Pesticides by themselves do not represent the only problem. The manner by which land is farmed in general has been associated with declines in both pollination and biodiversity. Farming destroys the types of spaces bees use for their nest, taking away the diversity of food bees require to live on, and has greater implications affecting animals from the amphibian, mammal, and bird categories.

Save the Bees

Bees represent a cornerstone of the Earth’s ecosystem and are essential for the survival of humanity. They pollinate a substantial portion of what people eat and help sustain nature around the world. The past decade has proven disastrous for insect populations. Neonicotinoids, a particular insecticide used in farming, have been banned all across Europe since 2013.

However, the government of the United Kingdom has approved the chemicals for use in emergencies only. This law can easily be abused by many agricultural businesses for the purposes of convenience and continue to pose a lethal threat to the populations of bees. By signing the Greenpeace petition, you are placing your vote to “enforce a total ban on bee-killing pesticides” in the hands of George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment.

Sign The Greenpeace Petition