Before flowering plants evolved, there were no bees. And then, about 100 million years ago, plants began to develop colorful appearances and sweetly scented reproductive organs. At the same time some wasps abandoned their carnivorous hunting lifestyle and took to a gentler way of life. Bees evolved from these wasp ancestors, feeding on pollen provided by the plants for protein in exchange for their services as pollinators.
Bees are remarkable for their co-evolution with flowers, displaying an astonishing range of adaptations- and they are no less remarkable for their social lives. Some bees are solitary, but honey bees live in large, well-organized family groups, and exhibit complex social behaviors seen nowhere else in the animal kingdoμ. Besides which, honey bees also make several products that are of direct benefit to us- the honey, the wax, and propolis that humans have valued for millennia.
Today, bees are found across the world, and the twenty thousand or so species display an amazing variety of behaviors. Some species live underground, others high in trees, and some even build their nests within the walls of our homes. And of course humans have taken to beekeeping on a massive scale. Bees are now so intertwined with humanity that our interest in them is no longer a simple fascination, but a vital necessity. Quite simple, apart from the honey and other products they supply, we need bees to pollinate the majority of fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon for our own food.
Fear of bees
With all the other threats they face, bees really need us on their side. There is a generalized fear of bees, because of the possibility of stinging. Yet bees, unlike wasps, are likely to sting only if their colony is threatened or they are being squashed. Most people’s fears are fueled by a lack of knowledge and of understanding of species. There are aggressive wasp species that live socially underground or in hollow trees with similar body structure that are commonly mistaken for bees, causing an unrealistic fear of bees.
The challenges faced by bees today, threaten not only the bees themselves but our economy, food supply and potentially all of human life.
Land-use changes are harmful to bees when habitats that were once suitable for them are lost or damaged. A big part of the land has been “reclaimed” for human use. Cities, road network, farmland and industrial land have been built on what previously was wildland, gradually affecting the forage and nesting sites of the wild bees. Once common species are now regionally extinct.
As a potential cause for bee losses, the weather can have serious local impacts, but such a factor is outside human control. However, global climate change- which could lead to a myriad of changes affecting bee survival-may be within human influence.
Farm crops are attacked by many pests and diseases, and pesticides have been developed to protect them from these attacks. However, these insecticides intended to kill pests, are also harmful to a range of beneficial insects such as bees. Recent laboratory studies show that neonicotinoid insecticides may also have subtle, non-lethal effects on bees. In non-lethal doses, the memory, the homing ability and foraging behavior is seriously impaired.
Honey bee colonies are healthier and stronger with access to pollen from diverse sources of flowering plants. However, floral diversity in landscapes has been reduced by intensive agriculture (single crops, few flowering weeds, limited hedgerows) and urbanization.
We need pollinators. Pollinators need us.
One out of three bites of food that we eat everyday, are a result of the birds, bats, butterflies, beetles and the bees that are responsible for pollinating the plants. One third of all agricultural output depends on the work of the pollinators.
These animals, travel from plant to plant and from flower to flower, carrying pollen on their bodies. This interaction allows the transfer of genetic material, enabling the reproduction of most flowering plant.
It is estimated that more than 1,300 types of plants are grown around the world for food, medicinal reasons, beverages, condiments, spices and even fabric. Of these, about 75% are pollinated by animals. Indirectly, pollinators ultimately play a role in the majority of what we eat and consume.
What is pollination?
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred to the female reproductive organs of a plant, thereby enabling fertilization. Like all living organisms, seed plants have a single major purpose: to pass their genetic information on to the next generation. The reproductive unit is the seed, and pollination is an essential step in the production of seeds in all seed plants.
For successful pollination to take place, a pollen grain produced by the anther (the male part of a flower) must be transferred to a stigma ( the female part of the flower) of a plant of the same species. After the pollen grain has landed on the stigma, it creates a pollen tube which grows down the style until it reaches the ovary. Sperm cells from the pollen grain then move along the pollen tube, enter the egg cell through the micropyle and fertilise it, resulting in the production of a seed, fruits and the next generation of plants.
Pollination is not just fascinating natural history.This nearly invisible ecosystem service is an essential ecological survival function that requires attention and support. Without pollinators, the human race and all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive.
Who are the pollinators?
Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from plant to plant.