Honeybees' Impact In Our Lives
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Honeybees and our diets
When most people think about honeybees and what they contribute to our society, they likely think only of honey. Honeybees however have a much larger impact in our lives through agriculture. Not only do they provide pollination to fruit and vegetable crops, but they also pollinate crops we grow and feed to animals which we then eat or use for dairy products. Without a healthy honeybee population and the beekeepers who keep them, our lives would change dramatically in a very short period of time. For this reason alone, a great debt is owed to those who keep honeybees, make a living from them, and provide the pollination services required for us to sustain the quality of life we have today.
Why honeybees are the primary pollination source for our crops
There are other bees in nature that can provide pollination for the plants we grow, but they can not supply the sheer volume of pollination required to maintain our current amount of consumption. This is because there are major differences between how honeybees and other bee species can be managed or kept by humans. Bumble bees, carpenter bees, and others can and do provide some of the pollination we require, but it is unlikely that they could ever fully replace the current services of the honeybee, and if they could it would be at a much larger cost to agriculture and consumers.
How pollination works
To have a better understanding of the impact honeybees have on the crops we grow and consume, we first need to understand what pollination is, and how the process takes place. Like us flowers have male and female parts. The male part is called a stamen and produces pollen (sperm). The female part is called a pistol. The top of the pistol is called a stigma. When pollen is transfered to the stigma, fertilization will take place, and seeds will develop at the base of the stigma in the ovule. Most plants rely on creatures, wind, or water to aid in their pollination. Of flowering plants, about ninety percent require a insect or animal of some kind to aid in transfer of pollen from the stamen to the pistol. In order for pollen transfer to happen without wind or water, there has to be a reward for the creature which will perform the job. If there were not a reward, the creature would ignore the plant and reproduction would no longer take place and extinction would soon follow for many plant species. For bees this reward is nectar and nutrient rich pollen. Nectar is basically sugar and water. There are many different types of sugar, but generally the more sugar content in the liquid the plant provides, the more attention the bees will pay to the plant. In some plants the bee will unwilling collect pollen on hairs on its body and transfer some to the next plant it visits when it is collecting nectar. On other plants the bee will intentionally collect pollen for its own consumption and for feeding and raising its brood (young) in the hive. Just as when collecting nectar, as the bee visits numerous plants collecting pollen, it will transfer some pollen from one plant to the next allowing sexual reproduction to take place between the plants and also increase genetic diversity.
How man manipulates pollination
Pollination is the process mankind manipulates to increase crop yields, and the profit of the crops grown. Some crops would not be profitable without the help of beekeepers because growers would not be able to produce enough fruit or vegetables per acre to make the crop viable or profitable. Many crops simply would not be viable at all. A great example of the relationship man has developed with honeybees is seen in apple orchards in Wisconsin when spring arrives. Most apple tree flowers in this area bloom in early spring when temperatures are still cool. Native bumble bees and others will pollinate a small portion of the blossoms but there numbers are very few at this time of year. Most bee species do not winter above ground. In most bumblebee species, the queen will hibernate over winter, then she will emerge in spring and start her colony of bees from scratch. Honeybees winter above ground and will have about ten thousand bees in their colony when temperatures become warm enough to fly, and then will increase their numbers up to 80,000 or more by the peak of summer. This difference is of great significance to early blooming crops. Therefore, in order for the apple trees fruit bearing potential to be realized to a profitable degree, colonies of honeybees must be brought to the apple orchards to perform the pollination process. This example can be repeated in one way or another in many of the fruits and vegetables we eat.
Indirect effects of honeybee pollination and the food we consume
An indirect relationship we owe to food we eat is through the pollination of plants which purpose is to provide seed for crops we grow and then feed to animals we eat or use for dairy products. One of these seed crops is from the alfalfa plant. Honeybees are used to increase the production of seed per acre harvested from the alfalfa crops. Without the aid of honeybees, many more acres would need to be used to provide enough seed to support our consumption and therefore would raise the price of the products that are derived from them at the market place.
Keeping our food supply sustainable
As honeybees play a very important role in our lives and our quality of living, attention must be paid to the fact that beekeepers are finding it more difficult to keep their bees healthy then ever before due to many different circumstances. Some of these circumstances are controllable and others are not. It is very important for us to pay attention to the chemicals and pesticides we use in our yards, and in agriculture. Too often, we neglect to think of the indirect consequences of our actions. Unfortunately many cities and towns prohibit even one or two hives of honeybees to be kept. Large scale beekeepers can find it difficult to find areas to keep their bees because people exhibit ill behavior towards keeping bees anywhere near their homes. The fact is that honeybees will almost never sting people away from their hive. It is wasps and hornets that are aggressive and seem to sting people for no reason other than they can. If you see colonies of honeybees in your area, you should not complain but appreciate the fact that someone is willing to keep and care for them, provide the pollination services needed to sustain our standard of living, and that they do all this for very meager or no profits.