Bees produce honey (see honey bees), beeswax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis. They also play an important role in pollination of certain farm crops (see below) and thus in farming in general and Biodynamic farming in particular. James Millton of The Millton Vineyard in New Zealand describes bees as “the police force for the air and light. With enough bees on your land, the other insects behave as insects, rather than behaving as pests.” They are susceptible to the varroa mite, and to colony collapse disorder (see link above).
THE NATURE & NECESSITY OF BEES
Review of Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees. By Thor Hanson. Basic Books; 304 pages in an article called ‘The rise and fall of bees’, The Economist July 26th 2018
BEES are wasps that went vegetarian. This was a brilliant evolutionary move: they now outnumber wasps by around three to one. Instead of hunting creatures that would rather not be eaten, they turned to living things that offered themselves on a plate. Bees and flowers evolved together in a spiral of mutual dependence. Nectar and pollen feed the bees; in return, the plants get to procreate.
Humans are beneficiaries, too. These days honey is seen as a minor treat, but for hunter-gatherers it was essential: members of the Hadza, a tribe in Tanzania, get as much as 15% of their calories from honey, not including nutrition from the larvae and pollen they also consume. Of all the foods in nature, honey is the richest in energy. “The need to feed our big, hungry brains may help explain why we crave it,” Thor Hanson explains in “Buzz”, a book of popular science at its intelligent best.
The 20,000 species of wild bees are even more important than the domesticated kind, through their role in pollinating crops. That is why the problems afflicting both domestic and wild bees represent a danger for people, too. Mr Hanson cites an authoritative survey showing that around 40% of bee species globally are in decline or threatened with extinction. Beekeepers in North America and Europe are losing hives at an abnormally high rate. Why? Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist, offers Mr Hanson the theory of the four Ps: parasites, poor nutrition, pesticides and pathogens. Widespread culling of flowers is a particular problem. “People look across a park or a golf course and think it’s green and lush, but to a bee it’s like a desert or a petrified forest—there’s nothing to survive on,” she says. The remedies are clear, according to Mr Hanson: “providing landscapes with more flowers and nesting habitat, reducing pesticide use, and stopping the long-distance movement of domestic bees (and the pathogens that travel with them).” Fewer bees will mean fewer plants and therefore less to eat and less oxygen to breathe.