Angiosperms or commonly referred to as flowering plants have long established a mutual relationship with insects of the world. Insects have helped flowering plants evolve over a course of millions of years through furnishing cross pollination. Insects in turn fed on plant pollens, fruits and nectar etc and evolved along side these flowering plants over those same millions of years.
But number of honey bees is drastically declining. What does it indicate and what might be the consequences we must be aware of? The biodiversity of a region isn’t the only one that depends on honey bees. Honey bees are also dependant on biodiversity of a region for their survival.
Main food of honey bees is pollen. More diverse their diet is, healthier their immune system remains. Diverse diet of honey bees means there need to be a diverse range of flowering plants whose pollens honey bees feed on.
Increasing monoculture is now considered one of the biggest reasons behind the vanishing honey bees. Single crops are now increasingly being cultivated foreseeing increasing world population. Larger such region, smaller would be the biodiversity of that region.
California’s almond orchards are one good example here. They cover some 800,000 acres and need bees for pollination. For this, many U.S. beekeepers take their hives to the orchards each year. But in the year 2013 alone beekeepers lost 40-50% or even more of their bees. In the run of finding answers, the massive loss of bees was tagged “colony collapse disorder” and leading suspect cause was found to be monoculture mixed with other lethal combination of factors.
Use of pesticides also makes it to the top of the list. However debatable, modern pesticides don’t leave toxic effects on human health (or collectively on mammals) and may not directly kill honey bees and other friendly insects, they are suspected to affect honey bees’ nervous system. Pesticides have been found in the pollen of flowers of pesticide treated plants. Honey bees ingest the chemicals as they ingest pollen. Affected nervous system means a honey bee wouldn’t be able navigate back to its hive. They also negatively affect honey bees’ immune system. Pesticides and fungicides have also been indicated in causing death of queen bees in many hives.
Presence of viral diseases and mites has also been indicated in bee hives. While they may not explain the drastic decline “colony collapse disorder” they also add up to the factors causing it. Back to the bees’ diet and studies discover that bees feeding on five or more types of pollen showed high level of glucose oxidase production. Glucose oxidase is what preserves honey and protects bee larvae against infections. Hence more diverse the diet healthier ultimately would be whole hive and better immune system of all hive members.
Domesticated bee hives have lower genetic diversity. Mixed with climatic changes bees are more susceptible to diseases and infections than before. Last but not least, there is a global issue of habitat loss for friendly insects. Decreasing population of wild species means all there left would be domesticated species of bees which means lower genetic diversity.
A serious consequence we’ll be facing because of decreasing honey bee populations would be lower yield of many crops that depend on cross pollination and hence pollinating agents to transfer their pollens to their female flowers.
While there is no magical solution to drastically decreasing number of honey bees, small steps can be significant in minimizing negative affects as much as possible. Planting more diverse flowering plants at homes and public parks etc can be an answer to increased monoculture so bees can have a diverse diet where ever possible. Lowering the use of fungicides and pesticides is yet another solution which is unfortunately a highly politically influenced issue.
Coffee is a self pollinating plant but occasional cross pollination does give rise to genetically diverse coffee cherries. It is good to know that shade grown coffee is more popular practice in many parts of the world and maintaining the natural diversity of a region is already on the agenda of many coffee cooperatives. And lets not forget all the food we pair coffee with!