Something you’ll hear a lot is that bees pollinate a third of our crops, and that’s true, no one’s refuting that, but about 2% of bees are actually responsible for 80% of that. That’s about a quarter of all crops that the severe minority are responsible for.
This was first noticed by David Kleijn, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He had been studying insects in farm fields in the Netherlands and Southern Italy five years prior. Even 1,500 kilometers apart, the bees populating the crops were relatively the same. Expanding his study, David put together a team of 58 researchers who studied bees in five continents. All together, they’d identified nearly 74,000 individual wild bees foraging for pollen, spanning 1,394 farm fields with all sorts of crops including apples, cranberries and coffee.
Close to half the work the researchers saw was done by commercial bees managed by their beekeepers while the rest was done by wild bees. Consistently at each site however, the researchers noted less than eight wild bee species focused on the crops. All the others used wild plants. Of the bees pollinating the crops, the Eastern bumblebee was among the most valuable, suppling pollination services estimated at $390 per acre where it was found.
The biggest argument people make for protecting bees has always been for the food they provide us, but when that train of thought leaves 98% of them behind, maybe it’s time to rethink the situation. The bees that don’t pollinate our food still provide for other animals such as birds, that eat them directly or herbivores who eat the plants they pollinate. Additionally, should the climate ever change, some of them could become much more important for crop pollination.
Bees are worth more than just the food they provide us.
For a continued reading on the matter, click here for LA Time’s article on the matter.