Bees play a crucial role on Earth. Some even claim that if they go extinct, humanity would be next. So with the dramatic decline in bee populaton, should we be worried? What happens if the bees all die?
Simply put, if a plant produces a flower, you can bet that bees help them reproduce. This long-standing working relationship evolved with flowers being bright and fragrant to attract bees and the bees' fuzzy, velcro-like bodies helping them to efficiently transfer pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part. This seemingly simple mechanism is directly responsible for the production of 70% of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts we consume on a daily basis. 70%! Which translates into almost $200 billion in global agriculture revenue. This huge responsibility is accomplished by droves of commercial bees, reared by professional beekepers for the sole purpose of being transported to farms or orchards to pollinate crops.
But since 2006, these hardworking, busy bees have been mysteriously disappearing. This Colony Collapse Disorder has seen an average of one third of commercial bees abandoning their hives. In fact, some beekeepers have even reported that 90% of their bees have simply buzzed off.
In some colonies, mites, viruses and parasites have been to blame, but many are now looking at a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. This neurotoxin is used to kill off crop-eating insects and pests, but also affects the central nervous systems of bees when they consume contaminated nectar. And since nectar is brought back to hives, the entire colony can be affected, leading to mass confusion and disorientation. On top of this, other factors such as extremely cold and long winters, a lack of genetic diversity in commercial bees, and less variable nectar in the fields may be at fault.
If the trend continues, entire food chains and webs may be at risk. Take almond plants for example. The hulls of these nuts are used as feed for farm cattle and chickens. Fewer bees means fewer almonds, which could mean declining livestock, and ultimately less milk, cheese, eggs and meat production. Not to mention almonds are used in cereal, baking and many other food products. Beef and dairy cows would also be harshly affected by the vanishing alfalfa fields which are used to harvest hay for cattle.
Looking for that morning buzz? Considering bees pollinate Coffea arabica, whose seeds we grind for coffee, you can count that out. Without bees, our diets would consist of mostly corn, wheat and rice, as they are wind-pollinated plants.
Like your clothes? Not only is cotton the biggest cash crop in the US, it also makes up about 35% of the world's fibre use. So you can forget those blue jeans, towels, mattresses and high quality paper products.
Simply put, we'd be living in a completely different world without bees, not to mention suffering a substantial economic strain from their disappearance. So while we may not necessarily go extinct should the downward trend persist, a world without the buzz of bees would definitely... sting!