Pollination deficit poses a real threat to honeybees
THIS remark is attributed to Albert Einstein, who died in 1955, but when or where did he make it?
Alice Calaprice, in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, traces the statement to an edition of The Irish Beekeeper published in 1966.
This forerunner of An Beachaire, “the voice of Irish #beekeeping”, cited a French periodical as its source; Abeilles et Fleurs had carried the statement the previous year.
But if Einstein said this, was he right? Not quite, according to the experts, but his heart was in the right place. Many of the food crops we depend on worldwide are pollinated by the wind.
The impact of collapsing bee populations on human health and welfare would be catastrophic for us, and for many other creatures, but our species would survive.
Speakers quoted the pollination remark at the Bee Week conference in Brussels last June and a paper, just published in Nature, examines “the wide range of benefits to society” #pollinators provide worldwide.
While not endorsing Einstein’s alleged claim, the paper laments the “well-documented declines in some wild and managed pollinators in several regions of the world”.
Europe has 632,000 #beekeepers, amateur and professional, hundreds of whom attended the European Parliament conference.
Focusing on the plight of the domestic #honey bee, “the feminist’s dream creature”, and the environment sustaining her, the proceedings were laced with memorable statements.
“Three-quarters of food production, worldwide, depends on pollination”. “A queen bee produces 2,000 eggs per day, four times her bodyweight”.
“Bees must fly 35,000km to produce a jar of honey”, a speaker claimed. However, another thought that the distance traveled to produce a kilo of honey was “the equivalent of a hundred circumnavigations of the Earth”.
Slovenia has its own, legally protected, Carniolan bee, a distinct race of the species. Foreign bees are barred from entry to Slovenia.
Monocultures, virtually unknown in the natural environment, are not bee-friendly.
Vast plantings of rape-seed are a prime example.
There is abundant pollen while the plants are flowering but, afterwards, with few wildflowers or traditional hedgerow plants available, the bees starve, resulting in a pollinator deficit in the following years.
“The one-party system ends in tears” declared bee expert Lucas Garibaldi.
“Precision farming” is recommended; holistic relationships with farmers, bee-friendly habitat management, minimal use of pesticides, and enlightened harvesting methods all pay dividends.
The 11 experts, writing in Nature, review the wide range of benefits to society pollinators provide; contributing “to food security, farmer and beekeeper livelihoods, social and cultural values..”.
The authors are concerned not just with bees but with pollination by wasps, flies, moths, butterflies, beetles, bats and birds.
Nor are the services these creatures provide confined to food provision, there are wide-ranging socio-economic benefits as well.
Pollinators ensure “biodiversity and ecosystem stability”, vital to human well-being.
Our health and welfare, and that of wild creatures generally, ultimately depend on them.
The pollination deficit is increasing worldwide; threats to insects now are unprecedented. Habitat destruction, land-use changes, pesticides, fires, genetically modified crops, climate change and invasive aliens such as the #varroa mite, are taking their toll on invertebrate populations.
Declines have been documented in several regions of the world.
But all is not lost; management measures can be taken to safeguard pollinators. “Two billion people live on small farms. Coaxing bees and beetles to buzz around small fields could boost crop yields by 25%”, a Brussels speaker claimed.
Bees can flourish even in urban environments given the right conditions.
Experts think that food production could even be doubled by 2050.
- Simon Potts et al. Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being. Nature. November 2016.
- Richard Collins attended the Bee Week conference on behalf of RTÉ’s Mooney Show.