Another great example of mutualism would be the way flowers and bees work together. A Bee get the nectar they need to make honey by travelling between flowers. The bee brings pollen from one flower to another, resulting in pollination. It is well known that humans could not live without plants, because not only do we use them for food and housing, we need the oxygen that plants give off. Plants breathe in the carbon dioxide that we breathe out.
Albert Einstein is sometimes quoted as saying, “lf the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, mankind will have no more than four years to live.” Although it’s unlikely that Einstein said that, there is a kernel of truth in the famous misquote.
Bees and humans have been through a lot together. People began keeping bees as early as 20,000 BCE. Beekeeping probably predates the dawn of agriculture, which occurred about 12,000 years ago, and likely made farming possible.
Where would we be without bees? As far as important species go, they are top of the list.
They are critical pollinators. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. A thorough and informative study, done by an international team of agricultural Scholars and Melittologists (people who study bees,) reviewed the importance of animal pollinators, including bees, to farming.
The group found that 87 crops worldwide employ animal pollinators, compared to only 28 that can survive without such assistance. Since honeybees are by consensus the most important animal pollinators, those are scary numbers.
Approximately 60 percent of the total volume of food grown worldwide does not require animal pollination. Many staple foods, such as wheat, rice, and corn, are among those 28 crops that require no help from bees. They either self-pollinate or get help from the wind. Those foods make up a tremendous proportion of human calorie intake worldwide. Even among the 87 crops that use animal pollinators, there are varying degrees of how much the plants need them. Only 13 absolutely require animal pollination, while 30 more are “highly dependent” on it. Production of the remaining crops would likely continue without bees with only slightly lower yields.
So if honeybees did disappear for good, humans would probably not become extinct (at least not solely for that reason). But our diets would still suffer tremendously. The variety of foods available would diminish, and the cost of certain products would surge. We’d still have coffee without bees, but it would become expensive and rare. The coffee flower is only open for pollination for three or four days. If no insect happens by in that short window, the plant won’t be pollinated.
There are plenty of other examples: apples, avocados, onions, and several types of berries rely heavily on bees for pollination. The disappearance of honeybees, or even a substantial drop in their population, would make those foods scarce. Humanity would survive-but our dinners would be a lot less interesting. That’s only the start. If we lose all the plants that bees pollinate, we would also lose all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain. Which means a world without bees could struggle to survive.
It gets worse. We are losing bees at an alarming rate. Possible reasons include the use of pesticides in agriculture, loss of flower meadows, the crab-like varroa mite that feasts on their blood and climate change. One of the problems with climate change is a disruption in the synchronisation of flower opening and bee hibernation.
Since the end of World War I the use of pesticides in agriculture has increased exponentially. It is now suggested that the widespread use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is having a detrimental impact on the health of bees. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that these pesticides directly contribute to a phenomenon ‘known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is essentially the process by which honeybees spontaneously abandon their hives. When bees are exposed to pesticides like neonicotinoids, they lose their sense of direction and don’t know how to return home.
Our survival depends on the health of the planet and its species, and unless we begin to all work toward this then we will continue to contribute to its demise – and our own.