Bees, Part I: Pollinator PowerLee Flaherty '12 | June 20, 2010
With the media of the past few years abuzz about honeybees dying off, a lot more people have been getting familiar with the importance of bees, – and more comprehensively, pollinators – to the crops we grow. Pollinators, bees included, are estimated to contribute to about 9.5% of world agriculture. Think about it. Almost every crop except grains and tubers (which pollinate by wind) depends on pollinators, and many of them heavily. Every time you eat almonds, asparagus, avocados, a melon, blueberries, apples, kiwifruit, macadamia nuts, pears, plums, pumpkins, cranberries, or drink tea, coffee, hot cocoa, or flavor your cake with vanilla, consider that those agricultural products – and many, many more – are almost entirely dependent on pollinators.
Honeybees are the number one managed pollinator for agriculture, due to our ability to manage honeybee hives. However, other pollinators are also very important. A few examples:
- Only humans, hummingbirds, or certain bees of the Melipona species can pollinate vanilla flowers.
- Non-managed social bees can play a large role in coffee flower pollination.
- While not yet known for sure, it is thought that any of a variety of small flies are the main pollinator(s) of cocoa flowers.
While the crops mentioned are admittedly specialty crops, consider how often you see products derived from the fruits of these plants; consider as well that some of these other pollinators pollinate many kinds of crops, and not just the ones listed above. For that matter, not every pollinator is appropriate in every agricultural situation. In greenhouses, for example, honeybees don’t even play a role. Greenhouses are the domain of the bumblebee.
I have no images for this post, so I’ll stop here for now. No pictures and lots of words is the basic formula for a bored blog reader. “Bees, Part II: Bees in a Greenhouse” is complete and on the shelf, waiting to be posted (within the next two days). Get ready!
Doubting what I say? Curious to learn more about pollination in agriculture? Here are a few papers that were useful in writing this blog post, for your reading enjoyment. For more of my sources, feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
Gallai, N., Salles, J-M., Settele, J., and Vaissière, B.E. 2009. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics. 68:810-821.
Morse, R. A., Calderone, N. W. 2000. The Value of Honey Bees as Pollinators of U.S. Crops in 2000. Bee Culture. March:1-15.
Veddeler, D., Olschewski, R., Tscharntke, T., and Klein, A-M. 2008. The contribution of non-managed social bees to coffee production: new economic insights based on farm-scale yield data. Agroforestry Systems. 73:109-114.
Free, J. B. 1993. Insect Pollination of Crops. Academic Press, London, UK. 398-390.