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Bees are a crucial part of our ecosystem, as are all pollinators. Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce. When bees collect nectar from the flower and some of the pollen sticks to the tiny hairs on their body. This is then transferred to the next flower they visit by being rubbed off onto the stigma, the middle part of the flower, allowing the plant to produce fruit containing seeds. About 80 percent of flower plants depend on pollination. If this process stops, not only do we have the potential to lose beautiful plants, but also food for us, birds, squirrels and all of the other animals that depend on plants for food.

A new study suggests that bees are not only important for the ecosystem, but they are also necessary for our food system and the whole economy. The researchers found that two percent of wild bee species contributed 80 percent of the crop pollination visits observed globally. About half of the work observed was done by commercial bees. Commercial bees are those that are kept and managed by beekeepers for profit. They get transported to agricultural areas that are lacking pollinators. Without commercial bees, it would not be possible to produce the quantity of fruits and vegetables that are presently being produced.

It is difficult to put a price on the environment, for example, how much a lake is worth to one person may differ from another. This new study was able to help us put a price on bees in regards to their value to our economy. The researchers concluded that bees are deemed to contribute an approximately $3,250 to crop production per hectare per year. This means they contribute billions of dollars to the global food system annually.

Why are bees at risk?

Bee populations worldwide are declining due to the loss of habitat. With expanding cities and shrinking natural areas, there are fewer places for bees to thrive. An increase in the use of chemicals, such as insecticides and fertilizers, on crops, is also having an affect on bees. They are affected by these chemicals when it is absorbed by the plant and its nectar and pollen are collected by the bees. The chemicals attack the bees’ nervous system, usually resulting in death.

How can you help?

There are many ways you can help bees in your own community, such as:

  1. Planting bee-friendly plants in your garden
  2. Supporting organic farmers who do not use chemicals on their crops
  3. Spreading the word about the importance of bees and their declining population

If you would like to find out more, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has lots of information and even explains how to identify bees in your own backyard!

Image Source: Andy Murray/Flickr