Bees are in danger because of the frightening rise in climate change, habitat loss, pesticide use, and colony collapse disorder. There has been a rapid decline in the population of bees recorded at the local, regional, and country levels.
Since the 1900s, different species of bees have been steadily going extinct1, according to studies. As shown in the list curated by the International Union of Conservation, more than 18 species of bees are at the risk of going extinct. The IUCN denotes over 150 bee species as vulnerable to extinction.
Bees contribute a lot to the pollination of plants. They provide us with food security because they play a significant role in maintaining the quality of crops. However, there has been a decline in the quantity and quality of agricultural produce in the United States2. The study of the decrease in crop production showed that bees are at risk of extinction.
Various factors contribute to the endangerment of the bees. These factors include:
Related: For more about bees, check out our compilation of fascinating bee facts about our buzzy friends. Our list of bee quotes and sayings will also resonate as you read on and consider the plight of the bees at human hands.
The shifts in weather and temperature affect the different species of bees at varying levels. Just as climate change is affecting humans, it's also affecting bees and their pollinating outputs.
Bees of considerable size like bumblebees, carpenter bees, and the eastern honeybees are more affected by the rise in temperature because they have a low resistance to heat. The decline in the large species of bees, especially bumblebees, results in reduced long-distance pollination.
Humans interrupt the natural habitat of the bees with their construction projects. Road & building constructions, mineral exploitation, and overall human settlements have caused habitat degradation and fragmentation. Ground nesting bee species such as the Colletes and Andrena need loose soil to build their nests.
However, they're in danger of extinction because extensive industrialization of the earth causes their habitats to disintegrate. Intensive land use divides the natural habitation of bees, causing a barrier to movements. This isolation leads to a decline in bees' health, diversity and pollination activities.
Pesticides are dangerous to the bee species. The toxic chemicals in pesticides damage the memory and learning ability of bees, especially honey bees. Also, it affects the reproductive capability of bees, causing a decline in offspring outputs.
Neonicotinoids, compounds found in pesticides, are used in research to determine how harmful pesticides are to bees3. The results show that it impairs bee fitness.
Pathogens are contagious bacterial diseases that affect bees and their productivity. These bee-killing pathogens include:
Brood pathogens tend to affect bee larvae, killing them. Some of these diseases cause impairment, like wing deformation and cell decay.
Invasive species like ants, skunks, and mice play a part in disrupting bee colonies. The Varroa mite is the most dangerous pest affecting bees' health. These mites are capable of destroying an entire colony of bees. Furthermore, skunks and mice invade hives, kill bees and feed on their combs. The small hive beetle is a notorious invasive insect that kills bees.
Nutrition is essential to the prosperity of the bee population. Most of the nutrients needed are from pollen. Adult bees need carbohydrates, while their larvae need protein, fats, and vitamins for proper growth. Apart from the nutrients listed above, amino acids are crucial compounds that aid bee growth. However, not all pollen contains the correct quantity of amino acids necessary for the well-being of larvae.
There are different bee species with various feeding patterns. Some bees are attracted to specific types of flowers, while some bees pollinate certain flowers. The squash bees, for example, only forage pollen from squash and gourd plants. Other species like bumble bees and honey bees get pollen from any flower.
Habitat loss and pesticides cause poor nutrition among the endangered species. For instance, the honey bee population (Apis Mellifera) is at the top of the endangered species list because they are experiencing nutritional stress6 caused by habitat loss, pathogens, and pesticides. Intensive farming also causes the depletion of nutrient loss for bee species. It disrupts the natural array of crops and flowers beneficial to the bees.
Several researchers examined the effects of air pollution on bee populations. Fuel exhaust and other harmful chemicals are floating around in the atmosphere. These hazardous substances are toxic to human health.
However, scientists have started exploring how air pollution affects pollinators, especially the honey bee populations. Bees have hairs covering their bodies that hold tiny particles. These small particles are from flowers, but other particles get caught amid these hairs. Scientists found that bees interact with plastics and polymer materials a lot, and the honey bee tends to be the largest carrier of microplastics5.
Also, bees and other pollinators use the scent of flowers to forage pollen. Air pollution blocks out flower scents which leads to a reduction in pollination.
In India, researchers studied the decline of the giant honeybee, Apis dorsata. The giant honey bee is a wild bee found in south and southeast Asia. It is responsible for the production of honey in India. Scientists discovered that bees avoided foraging from plants in polluted areas, and more bees were in less polluted areas.
More studies showed that 80% of the bees from polluted areas died9, and 80% of bees from rural and low-polluted areas survived. Honeybee colonies depend on the worker bees. With air pollution killing a large percentage of the worker bees, honey bee hives are susceptible to colony collapse disorder and extinction.
It refers to a rapid decline of adult worker bees. The absence of adult worker bees leads to the death of the entire colony Colony collapse disorder affects managed bee colonies more than wild bee colonies. It became a vital cause of concern when 60% of winter colony losses in the US relate to CCD. Also, the rate at which honey bee colonies were affected by CCD in Europe increased by over 30%7.
There is more to bees than producing honey. Bees are essential to biodiversity and our survival as humans, as they pollinate crops and flowering plants. In the United States, the Rusty Patched bumblebee is the only species protected by the Endangered Species Act. Elsewhere, despite various efforts, bees are endangered by large-scale encroachment on their habitats, as above, and other factors.
The bee population is the unrivaled pollinator among other insects. In 2017, the honey bee and the wild bee were responsible for increasing crop yield by 67%4.
Here are four reasons why we should protect bees:
A popular health product from bees is honey, natural sugar with numerous benefits. Over the last few decades, honey has been for medicinal purposes. It contains micronutrients such as calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, zinc, riboflavin, and amino acids. Honey is also a great source of antioxidants and helps strengthen the immune system.
Apart from honey, you can also get beeswax from bee hives. Eco-friendly candle-making and cosmetic industries use beeswax in their products. Pharmaceuticals also use it to make capsules and pill coating.
Another healthy product made from bees is propolis. Bee colonies use it as a sealant for cracks and fissures. It is often added to vaselines to soothe burns. Propolis is also mixed with salve to treat cuts and wounds. Bee venom is an acidic liquid, an excretory product of bees. It has anti-inflammatory compounds, including enzymes, amino acids, and sugar. Also, it helps reduce allergic bee reactions and other medicinal purposes.
Bee populations facing extinction means there will be a reduction in the quantity and quality of by-products from bees. Protecting endangered species guarantees a constant flow of healthy products made from bees.
There are several other pollinators in the ecosystem, but bee populations influence the food supply chain more. They play a significant role in the sustenance of agriculture. Bees pollinate different plant species, providing food in various forms.
The process of pollination benefits the human, animal, and bee populations. As bees fly from plant to plant, they feed on pollen, which provides them with enough energy to transport pollen for a long time. Flights for an extended period lead to an increase in crop yield.
Apart from providing crops and fruits for human consumption, other animals also benefit from pollination. Some animals also feed on fruits, nuts, and seeds that bees pollinate. Bee loss in the bee population would lead to famine and starvation among humans and animals. It is paramount that endangered species be protected to avoid famine and other associated problems.
There are numerous factors to consider before calculating the financial value of bees. The produce extracted from bee populations has contributed immensely to various nations' economic value. According to Forbes, pollinations from bees and other pollinators are worth about $500 billion.
Honey bees have the most value among the many species available. They're worth $20 billion in annual revenue. The honey from honey bees is worth millions of dollars. Bumblebee species and other bees are worth about $4 billion annually8.
Although these pollinators enable the abundance of food supplies, they also contribute to the well-being of the ecosystem. The absence of pollinators would lead to the extinction of various plants because of the inability to reproduce. Bees play a crucial part in growing healthy flowering plants and food plants.
Each species of bee serves to pollinate different types of flowering plants. Plants and bees are dependent on one another for survival. If bees go extinct, plants will also face extinction.
All species of bees are at risk of extinction. The endangerment is because of the rapid growth of human urbanization, climate change, and intense land use for agriculture. Measures should be put in place before all species of bees become extinct.
The decline of bees will lead to a terrible fall in crop production, leading to famine and starvation. We gain a lot of benefits from bees more than they benefit from us. It is only proper that we prevent them from going extinct.
Eduardo E. Zattara, Marcelo A. Aizen, Worldwide occurrence records suggest a global decline in bee species richness. One Earth,Volume 4, Issue 1,2021,Pages 114-123.
F. Manzoor and M. Pervez, (July 23rd, 2021). Pesticide Impact on Honeybees Declines and Emerging Food Security Crisis.
C. Stuligross and M. Williams, (30 September 2020). Pesticide and resource stressors additively impair wild bee reproduction.
Shaden A. M. Khalifa, Esraa H. Elshafiey, (2021 Jul 31). Overview of Bee Pollination and Its Economic Value for Crop Production.
Matt Kelly, (May 24, 2021). Honeybees are accumulating airborne microplastics on their bodies.
B. Branchiccela, L. Castelli, [...], and K. Antúnez, (2019 Jul 12). Impact of nutritional stress on the honeybee colony health.
Daniel Cressey, (April 9, 2014). EU states lose up to one-third of honeybees per year.
Bayer Contributor, (Oct 14, 2019). The Value Of Pollinators To The Ecosystem And Our Economy
Janet Pelley, (August 11, 2020). Air pollution hurts honeybees.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.