- Bees pollinate more than a third of the world’s crops. So what would happen if they went extinct?
- For one, it would likely halve the number of fruits and vegetables on supermarket shelves.
- Plus, it could drastically alter the food chain, starting with insects and other animals that depend on the plants that bees pollinate.
- And, the disappearance of bees could happen sooner than you might expect. In fact, bees have been dying off at record rates for the past decade.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Bees might not be your favorite insects out there. After all, their stings can really hurt.
Narrator: But as far as important species go, bees are near the top of the list. You see, bees are critical pollinators, meaning they’re responsible for pollinating more than a third of the crops that feed the world’s population. But today, bees are dying off at record rates. So, what would a world without bees look like, and what would that mean for our global food supply?
Narrator: Well, if all the bees on Earth suddenly dropped dead tomorrow, things wouldn’t look good for our planet. And that’s because pollination is critical to the health of our global ecosystem. It’s what allows plants to reproduce and grow the fruits and vegetables humans need for a balanced diet. And the thing is, bees are some of the best pollinators out there. In fact, they’ve co-evolved with flowering plants over millions of years to become pollinating machines.
Elina Niño: Of course, a lot of them are fuzzy, so they have hairs, or specialized equipment, so to speak, where they can store pollen.
Narrator: Bees help pollinate the reported 84% of crops humans eat that are insect-pollinated. Globally, this accounts for a staggering $US235 ($AU321) billion to $US577 ($AU789) billion in annual food production. Without bees and other pollinators, supermarket shelves would hold about half the fruits and vegetables they have now, transforming the produce section from this… to this. We wouldn’t have luxuries like almonds, apples, or avocados.
Niño: We would also suffer in terms of dairy production. We use alfalfa to feed dairy cattle, and dairy cattle, of course, produces the milk, and the milk is used to produce many dairy products that we eat. When I talk to the kids, all the kids are very disappointed to hear that we might lose ice cream.
Narrator: The extinction of bees could have a disastrous domino effect, killing off animals that eat those plants, and so on up the food chain. Luckily, humanity wouldn’t face a global famine like you might expect.
Niño: We wouldn’t necessarily starve to death, because there are a lot of plants that we do eat and we depend on that are wind-pollinated, including, for example, wheats.
Narrator: So if the bee apocalypse does hit, we could still meet the daily calorie needs of our global population. Our diets, however, would suffer in major ways, as foods that provide key nutrients for our bodies would become scarce and extremely expensive.
Niño: A lot of the plants that we eat that are dependent on animal pollination do provide the necessary micronutrients that improve our health. We would probably be very sickly. So, for example, let’s just think about citrus, right? We would probably have issues with scurvy, if you think about it. I guess you could really supplement that with vitamins, but again, definitely not all of the vitamins can be as easily accessible to the body as they are when you’re actually eating them.
Narrator: According to the US Department of Agriculture, the work that bees do for US farmers is worth about $US15 ($AU21) billion a year, so without them, the cost of produce would skyrocket.
Niño: Especially those who are socioeconomically challenged, they already have hard times accessing the healthy foods, so this would probably impact them even worse.
Narrator: And we could be closer to a bee-less future than you might expect. In 2018, American beekeepers reported losing 41% of their colonies, and worldwide, bees have been dying off at record rates for the past decade.
Niño: Honeybees, at least in the past, I believe, 12 years have been declining about up to 45% annually, in some cases.
Narrator: Scientists haven’t pinned down an exact reason for this sudden decline in the bee population. However, likely reasons are global warming, overuse of pesticides, and parasitic varroa mites, which spread viruses to bee colonies. Right now, countries around the world are working to monitor bee colonies and even create new pollination methods using robots.
Niño: There are researchers who are trying to develop drone pollinators, so using drone technology to pollinate flowers. It all would most likely be more costly.
Narrator: So, what can the average person do to be more bee-friendly? Well, if you have a garden, plant a range of flowers so wandering bees can have access to nectar throughout the year.
Niño: Bees that we have that are wild bees, that are native bees, a lot of them actually nest in soil, so leaving bare ground for those bees is really useful if you’re redoing your lawn, for example. Providing access to water would also be very helpful for the bees, and reducing pesticide input if at all possible.
Narrator: While steps are already being taken to save the world’s bee population, there’s still a lot to be done to protect Earth’s most buzzy pollinators.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in November 2019.