An article by Green Daily (http://tinyurl.com/pcy98d) has prompted me to write this post.
Plants have been pollinated by wind, water, insects, bats and other vectors for hundreds of millions of years, long before the european honeybee evolved or was dispersed world-wide by beekeepers. None of the honeybee hoopla propounded by agricultural interests acknowledges this important point.
Grains like wheat and rice are pollinated by wind, not eurobees. Any suggestion that a loss of eurobees will have a significant impact on grain production would be a damn lie.
Similarly, in my own garden are numerous species of pollinators busily working the flowers. In fact, rather few of humanity's crops were pollinated by the eurobee until relatively recently. Not surprisingly, those plants continue being pollinated by insects other than the eurobee. Our crops will not be lost despite what we are being spoon-fed by concerned but ignorant ag interests.
Conversely, I suspect that a severe decimation of the world eurobee population could result in an increase of other pollinators that could quite easily make up the difference. Think about it: Ecological science teaches us that a finite resource will support more individuals of multiple species than of a single species. Thus, if the world's eurobee population is decimated, it is far more likely that native pollinators will take up the slack than it is that ag production will fall off. Indeed, it is even possible that there will be MORE pollinators if the eurobee is decimated!
Another factor to consider is that a huge amount of our "produce" is actually feedstock for the meat-raising industry. Perhaps when we eat less meat we will see a decrease in ag acreage, a decrease in pesticide usage with a concomitant increase in natural pollinators and fewer human cancers, a lower eurobee density which could reduce the number and severity of eurobee disease irruptions, and a rise in the diversity and richness of natural insect pollinators, among many other benefits.
I am an ecologist that cares far more for species diversity than for tunnel-visioned parochial concerns over a single kind of bug. I am gratified to know that my vegetable and herb garden is pollinated by miner bees that nest in the sandy clay bank outside my back door, by dung beetles that assist in decomposing raccoon feces under the cabbage palm fruiting inflorescences outside my front door, and by the crab spiders sitting on flowers a-waitin' hapless eurobees to step into their parlors. And, none of the latter species sting me, either, LOL.
The on-going population deflation of the eurobee is yet another example of humans overpopulating earth with monocultures to such an extent that disease vectors evolve quickly into new strains of pests. Ecologically, the irruptions of eurobee diseases are inevitable, after all, this is what happens eventually to so many if not all of our agricultural and horticultural species. Eventually, this could happen to us, too, as we continue to believe that we all have the “right” to have as many children as we want.
Only those who are ignorant of entomology, ecology and history could think that the loss of a single species of pollinator would result in staggering losses to the ag sector. No, it is a 100 percent certainty that we will find ways around our dependence on the eurobee. Any suggestion to the contrary should demand long term empirical evidence before being given any credence.
Let's stop bee-ting around the bush and acknowledge that our ag problems are the consequences of human overpopulation.
In regards to your posting, I think that you have brought up some very important points that need to be considered. I agree with you that there should be a greater emphasis placed on all pollinators because like you say, the European honey bee is not the only pollinator out there. The University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign just recently opened a pollinator museum and celebrates a pollinator week. http://www.life.illinois.edu/pollinatarium/ Indeed, many insects or animals have the ability to pollinate and face similar declines when habitats are destroyed and pesticides are used.ReplyDelete
As you wrote honey bees do not pollinate grains such as wheat and corn. These, along with soy, are the monocrops used to feed livestock. Honey bees pollinate crops such as blueberries, oranges, apples, pears, squash, & almonds. The products of (honey bee) pollination significantly increase the variety of food. This is the reason for concern.
And I come back to conventional agriculture as the problem. In the documentary "Silence of the Bees" the camera follows a commercial bee keeper as he takes thousands of bees to Maine to pollinate the blueberry crop. The massive acreage of blueberries demands a massive pollinating force. And perhaps you already know this, once the blueberry pollination is done, the bees are loaded on to semi-trucks and taken to Florida and then often California for oranges and almonds, respectively.
The blueberry and almond farmers pay lots of money to lease out the bee hives for a couple of months. The bee keepers make their living from moving their bees around, and the commercial bee keepers are the ones to suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Smaller apiaries are less likely to suffer from CCD and there have been no cases of Colony Collapse Disorder in Illinois, which is where I'm from.
I believe that agriculture has to downsize to become locally owned and produced. Of course some crops will still travel, but we could grow much more than corn, soy, wheat in the Midwest. In this way, there could be space freed up for pollinator habitat and increased biodiversity.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I checked out your blog, and can see why you are so familiar with bees. My maternal grandfather was a beekkeeper and a bee robber in the mountains of NC. I am glad to hear that CCD is not in your neighborhood and that smaller apiaries are less likely to suffer from the affliction. Oh, and I like your Deadly byline.
While assessing for skinks in south Florida citrus groves this spring, I saw the importance of eurobees on citrus pollination first-hand. You are quite right that it is significant. Fortunately, there were also other pollinators on the wonderfully aromatic flowers, but not nearly as many as there were eurobees. Many more citrus fruit get fertilized than survive to harvest. I would be interested in data on production with and without eurobees. The citrus plant can produce only so much fruit weight, so what I'm getting at is: How much more produce do eurobees truly enable? I am sure the ag college research system has looked at that, I just have to go and look that up, ... too...
I don't know about blueberry farms up north (I have not seen the flick you mentioned), but in FL citrus groves large portions are unsuitable for growing citrus. Mostly, that is due to cold air settling into low spots and then freezing and killing the plants. This happens every year or so, and as a result many growers have stopped replanting citrus there. After abandonment, whatever plant species colonize the depressions, including exotic invasives, are what grow there. It is very low quality biodiversity habitat.
Citrus grove developers could instead allow cold depressions to remain in the natural state, and owners of existing groves could restore (expensive!) native depression habitats. Such plant communities in south Florida would have something blooming nearly the year around. Natural pollinators would increase in number, and ... well, you have already connected those dots.
And hey! Why does a citrus grove have to produce only citrus? Why can't they produce blueberries in the wetter depressions, pecans in the mesic depressions and sand skink scrub in the xeric depressions? I like to think polyculture will come into first world flower before too much longer; it is already there in the third world.
Do ME blueberry growers have a similar opportunity? North Am has numerous species of native blueberries, so I bet commercial blueberries would be pollinated by numerous natives. The four other insect-pollinated fruits you mentioned are in plant families that have abundant, closely related native species (well, the squash does in South Am), so surely they too will have an abundant source of native pollinators.
Yes indeedy, a breakfast table without orange blossom honey would be a poorer sup. Likewise, an evening sunset would be blander without the bats that white-nose syndrome is currently mass killing: