This piece appeared in thespec.com on May 25th, June 2016 as There's more to Bees than just Honey.
Honey — I could take it or leave it. But many of us love the sweet taste of that sticky mess honeybees make from the nectar they gather from flowers. And now that bees and other pollinators are on the decline, efforts across the world are stepping up to do something about it.
It's not just that we won't have honey anymore if we lose the honeybees; the concern is also that we will lose pollination — a far more serious issue, as it affects food production.
But here's the thing: if we lost our honeybees today, we would still have pollination.
In Ontario alone, there are over 400 species of wild bees — and surprise! They are pollinators too!
"Typically all agricultural pollination that involves bees assumes that it is done by honeybees," laments bee expert, Dr. Laurence Packer (Professor of Biology at York University). "In Britain, that is not the case because there are not enough hives to account for production."
While in North America, the fields are much larger, "We actually don't know how much other pollinators contribute to production." But because the livelihood of beekeepers depends on the honeybee, if colonies die off, it's a problem.
Here's the thing — according to Packer, honeybees are good at pollinating due to their sheer numbers. "Take 10,000 foraging bees. The overall effect is going to be positive even if they are each doing a bad job on a per visit basis. Individually, they are less effective than a lot of other pollinators/bees."