Benefits of Bee Pollination

Benefits of Bee Pollination

Benefits of Bee Pollination (2)

For many important crops, good bee pollination translates into higher yield, larger fruit, higher quality fruit, and faster ripening fruit. These benefits translate not only into optimized incomes for growers, but ultimately into a large and diverse food supply that promotes human health and wellbeing.

Since good pollination increases fruit yield and quality, farmers have long been interested in this phenomenon. The civilizations of the ancient Middle East understood, at least in a practical sense, the importance of pollination. A bas relief from Assyria dating around 1500 BC shows mythological creatures manually cross-pollinating date palms. The prophet Amos in the 8th century BC was a ‘piercer of sycamores’, a practice still done today in which poorlypollinated figs are manually gashed to induce ripening. Today, 90% of worldwide national per capita food supplies are contributed by 82 commodities that can be assigned to plant species and by 28 general commodities (such as hydrogenated oils) that cannot be assigned to particular species. Bees are pollinators for 63 (77%) of the 82 species commodities, and they are the most important known pollinator for at least 39 (48%) (Prescott-Allen and PrescottAllen, 1990; Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996). The multiplicative value of bee pollination becomes apparent when one tallies bee-pollinated food plants and considers the large quantities that are converted to animal feeds and ultimately meat, egg, and dairy products. One wellworn, and probably accurate, estimate says that one-third of the human diet can be traced directly, or indirectly, to bee pollination (McGregor, 1976). This estimate is probably more accurate for human diets in developed countries.

For fruit- or nut-bearing crops, pollination can be thought of as a grower’s last chance to increase yield. It is the degree and extent of pollination that dictates the maximum possible number of fruits. All post-pollination inputs, whether growth regulators, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides, are generally designed not to increase yield but to conserve losses. Because of its yield-optimizing benefits, bee pollination can play an important role in maintaining a sustainable and profitable agriculture with minimized disruptions to the environment. Alterations in agricultural practices that significantly reduce yield rates have the danger of encouraging more wild lands to be converted into farmland to make up for reduced yields (Knutson et al., 1990). Good bee pollination and optimized crop yields are thus part of a sound environmental management policy.

Although wind-pollinated cereals make up the bulk of human diets, insect-pollinated crops often mean the difference between eating for survival or eating for pleasure. Insect pollinated crops are the delicacies one can easily take for granted. They are the low-acreage, high-value crops that pump millions of dollars into local agricultural economies. They are the forage plants that fuel livestock production. To gain an appreciation of bee pollination, one need only imagine life without beef steak, blueberry muffins, ice cream, pickles, apple dumplings, or watermelon. For many people in the world, such deprivations are not imaginary. If the gross disparities that exist in the world between rich and desperately poor, well-fed and not, are ever to be absolved, bee pollination will play a part. The area of bee-pollinated crops is increasing in many developed countries (Torchio, 1990a; Corbet et al., 1991). In Canada, over 17% of cultivated land is used for crops that depend entirely or in part on insect pollination (Richards, 1993). If developing countries follow suit, we can expect unprecedented growing demand for bee pollination in the 21st century.

The degree to which a particular crop needs insect pollination depends on the flower morphology, level of self-fertility exhibited by the plant, and arrangement of flowers on the plant or on neighbouring plants. Those crops are most dependent on insect pollination that have separate male and female flowers (so-called imperfect flowers), whether occurring on separate plants or on the same plant. In these cases insects, especially bees, are important pollen vectors, moving pollen from male to female flowers. There is a higher rate of self-pollination in plants with flowers housing both male and female sexual components (perfect flowers); however, bees often optimize pollination even in perfect flowers. Pollination in other crops, particularly the cereals, is accomplished by wind and gravity, and bees play only a minor role.

Finally, the economic value of bee pollination goes beyond production agriculture because bees pollinate more than just crop plants. All told, bees pollinate over 16% of the flowering plant species in the world (Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996). Bee pollination sustains native and introduced plants that control erosion, beautify human environments, and increase property values. Bees pollinate native plants which provide food for wildlife and have inherent value as members of local natural ecosystems. Although some believe that this generalization does not apply to the cosmopolitan honey bee, A. mellifera, which is an exotic species throughout most of its modern range, the bulk of experimental evidence suggests that introduced honey bees are only rarely a detrimental feature of local ecologies (Butz Huryn, 1997). In the absence of large-scale demonstrable negative impacts of introduced honey bees and considering their widely acknowledged value as pollinators of crop plants and their catholic plant preferences, it seems reasonable to anticipate that honey bees, even introduced populations, play an important role in sustaining natural plants and the animal communities that depend on them.

It is no exaggeration that the sheer abundance, high quality, and variety of food enjoyed today in much of the developed world – a bounty unmatched by any other period in history – derives in no small measure from bee pollination. The western honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is arguably the most well-known bee pollinator of crops. Its native range is large, extending from northern Europe, through the Middle East, and all of verdant Africa. Beginning in the 17th century, European colonists began actively spreading this bee throughout much of the world. In the ensuing centuries A. mellifera has proven itself highly adaptable to a broad range of climatic conditions. Its adaptability, its tolerance of human management, and its honey-making habit have secured its place as humanity’s favourite bee. Large feral populations of honey bees became the norm in much of the world, populations that contributed significantly to crop pollination, with or without the knowledge or appreciation of the farmer. Today, many countries have large and sophisticated bee-keeping industries dedicated to the production of honey, other hive products, and pollination services

Five important species of honey bees are as follows.

  1. The rock bee, Apis dorsata (Apidae).
  2. The Indian hive bee, Apis cerana indica (Apidae).
  3. The little bee, Apis florea (Apidae).
  4. The European or Italian bee, Apis mellifera (Apidae).
  5. Dammer bee or stingless bee, Melipona irridipennis (Meliporidae).

The important features of these species are given below.

Rock bee (Apis dorsata)
They are giant bees found all over India in sub-mountainous regions up to an altitude of 2700 m. They construct single comb in open about 6 feet long and 3 feet deep .They shift the place of the colony often. Rock bees are ferocious and difficult to rear. They produce about 36 Kg honey per comb per year. These bees are the largest among the bees described.

Little bee (Apis florea)
They build single vertical combs. They also construct comb in open of the size of palm in branches of bushes, hedges, buildings, caves, empty cases etc. They produce about half a kilo of honey per year per hive. They are not rearable as they frequently change their place. The size of the bees is smallest among four Apis species described and smaller than Indian bee. They distribute only in plains and not in hills above 450 MSL.

Indian hive bee / Asian bee (Apis cerana indica)
They are the domesticated species, which construct multiple parallel combs with an average honey yield of 6-8 kg per colony per year. These bees are larger thanApis florae but smaller than Apis mellifera. They are more prone to swarming and absconding. They are native of India/Asia.

European bee / Italian bee (Apis mellifera)
They are also similar in habits to Indian bees, which build parallel combs. They are bigger than all other honeybees except Apis dorsata. The average production per colony is 25-40 kg. They have been imported from European countries (Italy). They are less prone to swarming and absconding.

Dammer Bee
Besides true honey bees, two species of stingless or dammer bees, viz. Melipona and Trigona occur in our country in abundance. These bees are much smaller than the true honey bees and build irregular combs of wax and resinous substances in crevices and hollow tree trunks. The stingless bees have the importance in the pollination of various food crops. They bite their enemies or intruders. It can be domesticated. But the honey yield per hive per year is only 100 gms.

Bee-keeping is a viable agricultural pursuit in developing countries, but the bee-keeping industries in many developed countries have contracted. World honey prices have been depressed the last few decades owing in part to the availability of other cheaper sweeteners. Parasitic varroa mites (Varroa sp.) and tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi) have spread from their native ranges and killed untold thousands of managed honey bee colonies and virtually eliminated feral populations in places.

One result of these hardships has been a renewed interest in the use of bumble bees and solitary bees as commercial pollinators. Only a few species of such alternative pollinators have been successfully cultured, so there is an emphasis on conserving their natural populations. There is great need for research in the conservation, culture, and use of these bees for pollination. Naturally-occurring bee populations are not always dependable for commercial pollination needs, owing to their uneven distribution or loss of their natural habitats and food plants. Rearing and managing methods for some non-honey bees are finely worked out and practical, but for others the rearing methods are poorly developed or protected as proprietary secrets.

One of our aims in this section of website is to promote an appreciation of all available bee pollinators. Pollinating bees, whether managed or naturally-occurring, are a valuable and limited resource. In this area of website, we concentrate on managing and conserving bees to optimize crop pollination. We cover honey bees, other managed bee species, and wild non-managed species. Each group has assets and liabilities from a plant grower’s point of view, but each deserves our best efforts to maintain its populations through good management or conservation.