Extinction of bees

March 30, 2023, 1:03 p.m.

The blue skies and blooming flowers of spring also bring with them the buzzing of bees, who emerge from their hives in search of pollen. While small in size, their contributions to our ecosystems are momentous; put simply, life on Earth as it is today would not exist without bees. Over millions of years, bees have evolved to help them pollinate flowers, even gaining little pollen pouches to carry larger loads; flowers have also evolved to attract bees and other pollinators and largely depend on them for reproduction. Which is why their disappearance is worrying: over the past century, bee populations have plummeted and some have even been labelled as endangered, leaving their ecosystems - and our food chains - at risk of collapse.

The environment isn't the only thing that will be affected by the loss of bees. Bees pollinate our favorite fruits and vegetables, including melons, apples, and even broccoli.

Honeybees are responsible for about 80% of the world's pollination, and they're dying at high rates. Without bees, plants that rely on pollinators would no longer be able to survive.

If our planet loses both bees and the plants they pollinate, we will see a massive change in several ecosystems. This means animals that feed on bees lose their food source, and plants that need pollination to survive will die out.

There are about 20,000 species of bees in the world, and they are probably the most important insect pollinators. The thousands of bee species have unique flight patterns and floral preferences, and many have coevolved with flowers in such a way that their body sizes and behaviors almost perfectly complement the flowers they pollinate. Sadly, bees of all types are in decline worldwide, as are many other insects. The familiar honeybee has suffered greatly from colony collapse disorder, in which hives suddenly lose their adult members. Populations of bumblebees and other solitary bees have steeply declined in many places, largely because of insecticide and herbicide use, habitat loss, and global warming. Some species, such as the rusty patched bumblebee, are even listed as endangered species.

If all of the world's bees died off, there would be major rippling effects throughout ecosystems. A number of plants, such as many of the bee orchids, are pollinated exclusively by specific bees. This would alter the composition of their habitats and affect the food webs they are part of and would likely trigger additional extinctions or declines of dependent organisms. Other plants may utilize a variety of pollinators, but many are most successfully pollinated by bees. Without bees, they would set fewer seeds and would have lower reproductive success. This too would alter ecosystems. Beyond plants, many animals, such as the beautiful bee-eater birds, would lose their prey in the event of a die-off, and this would also impact natural systems and food webs.

Many fruits and vegetables are insect-pollinated and could not be grown at such a large scale without bees. Blueberries and cherries, for example, rely on honeybees for up to 90 percent of their pollination. Without bees, the availability and diversity of fresh produce will decline substantially, and humanity will face a global food crisis that will cost billions of human lives.

Bees are at risk of extinction largely due to human activities: large-scale changes in land use, industrialised agricultural practices, like monocultures, and the detrimental use of pesticides have all contributed to destroying their habitats and reducing their available food sources. Globalisation has also facilitated the transmission of parasites and other invasive species that prey on bees, like the Asian hornet, which can decimate entire hives in hours.

Global warming also plays a large role in the endangerment of the bee population. Rising temperatures, increased flooding, droughts and changes in blooming seasons of flowering plants all affect the bees ecosystems, reducing their suitability to the environment and threatening their survival.

The ecological issue of the possible extinction of the bees is also a humanitarian issue, as the stability of human populations largely depends on the stability of bee populations. Considering the crucial role of bees pollination activities in supporting our agricultural systems, their disappearance will result in a global food crisis for humanity. Supplies of foods such as apples, berries, avocados, coffee and onions would fall drastically since they require the help of pollinators to reproduce.

Are you worried about the disappearance of bees? Do you think it is necessary to solve the problem of mass extinction of bees and how?