Bees may be known for stings and honey but their effects on the environment, the economy, and human health are less famous. In fact, bees — honey bees specifically — are essential to the well-being of humanity for their capacity to pollinate wild plants and domesticated crops. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that three-quarters of fruit- and seed-producing crops the world overgrow because of pollinators like bees. Transferring pollen grains from the male anther to the female stigma is central to plant propagation. Significantly, this process happens in backyard gardens as well as large-scale farms in China.
1: Importance to Local Economy
Pollinated crops are more economically priced than non-pollinated crops. Global trade of pollinated commodities ranges from 235 to 577 billion dollars annually. Local farmers who raise these plants receive more per bushel from the retailers and middlemen to whom they sell. These plants include apples, pumpkins, blueberries, alfalfa, flax, watermelon, and sweet potatoes. Greater profits for growers mean more investment in farm machinery, outbuildings, consumer products, and local services.
2: Importance to Local Sustainability
A little-known reality is that, in some localities, agricultural land sustains more biodiversity than natural, untouched ecosystems. Pollination by bees is credited in large part for that sort of environmental vitality. The apparent irony is explained by the fact that land lays fallow after harvest and bees — seeking the herbs and shrubs that emerge in the wake of the combine — descend on it.
3: Importance to Size and Quality
Pollinators like bees are also responsible for larger fruit that yields more seeds. Indeed, when bees and other pollinating agents are scarce, growers must resort to supplemental pollination and apply it to each flower. Since carpels in the flower grow into edible fruit, the degree of necessary pollination is determined by the number of carpels. This is another reason why a healthy bee population is preferable.
4: Importance as a Measure of Crop Safety
In a case of reverse proportion, a declining bee population is a strong signal that invasive species of pests, as well as fungi and bacteria, may be present in a field or stand. For example, European farms have experienced a dearth of honey bees and wild bees due to the advent of the Asian Giant Hornet. Some bee predators are also responsible for plant destruction. If bees are few and far between, extra watchfulness is imperative for crops to survive.
5: Importance to Honey Production
Of course, honey can not be forgotten. Bees can actually serve as livestock when employed in the honey industry. Just North Dakota, South Dakota, and California alone produce over 66 million pounds of honey for sale commercially. Domesticated bees create significant amounts in a dozen other states too. Local economies often depend on such a generation to contribute to the tax base.
6: Importance to Wild Plants
The pollination of crop plants is not a bee’s only charge. Wild plants, too, benefit from this fertilization. Why does this matter? Agricultural crops are subject to damage and consumption by deer and other ruminants. An abundant stand of wild food sources, therefore, protects those intended for humans. Less wildlife intrusion means more crops are left intact.