Bees, essential for human survival

In the world, 80 percent of crops, beverages, medicines, inks, and fibers require their work. In Mexico, the population of these insects is decreasing due to the use of agrochemicals in some states.

Bees, essential for human survival
As bees pass through the female organs of the flower, they leave pollen grains behind. Photo by Dennis Klicker / Unsplash

In the world, there are more than 20,000 species of bees whose main function is pollination, a vital task for the food security of humanity. However, they face several threats such as climate change, indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, as well as monocultures that limit their nutrition, warned Ricardo Anguiano Baez, professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnics (FMVZ) of the UNAM.

Although in Mexico we have not had a collapse, there are strong population losses of these insects, especially due to the use of pesticides in the Yucatan Peninsula, Jalisco, and the Comarca Lagunera. "Efforts have been made based on these events to try to find out the causes and protect the bees. Perhaps we have failed to coordinate between authorities, beekeepers, and academia, to be able to work together and guide a national beekeeping policy", acknowledges the university professor.

According to the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), in Mexico, about 88 percent of the 145 species whose fruit or seed is grown and consumed, such as chili, mango, pumpkin, beans, or tomato depend on these and other insects for their production. In the world, 80 percent of the crops from which we obtain food, beverages, medicines, dyes, and fibers also need their work.

Pollination takes place from the moment the pollen leaves the stamen of the flower, where it was generated until it reaches the pistil where it will germinate to generate fruits and seeds. The bees are adapted in their work, being covered with feathery hairs and easily impregnated with pollen grains in search of nectar.

As they pass through the female organs of the flower, they leave pollen grains behind. They have a very complex interaction with plants; transferring pollen is their primary function in the ecosystem. He highlights some factors that put them at risk:

They are attacked by a mite called Varroa destructor, which is distributed throughout the world where honey bees are present and beekeeping is practiced. It affects bees at different levels, mainly in their defense mechanisms, and their immune responses, which leaves them susceptible to other agents such as viruses and some fungi.

It also affects their social dynamics, reduces their life span, and makes them susceptible to another component that could stress and kill bees.

Climate change damages this species by bringing forward or delaying blooms, sometimes making them shorter and these insects are not in time to receive them; it also causes the loss of floral varieties. This global phenomenon has favored the parasites to reach warmer regions that they did not reach before.

Greater knowledge of the bee species

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the most studied and used by humans, but there are more than 20 thousand species. When we talk about bees and pollination, the honey bee is the example and is the one we know, the most monitored one, but the others should keep us attentive because they are the ones that will fulfill these functions, mainly in a great variety of natural ecosystems.

Of the thousands of species, only five to seven percent are social, and the rest are solitary, so their dynamics of interaction with agrochemicals in the field are different, and the pathogens are also different. Only viruses are homogeneous to the types of bees. That is why it is essential to know and study others.

Starting in 2006, there was a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Syndrome. It attracted attention because in the United States and some parts of Europe it caused losses of up to 90 percent of the colonies of beekeepers; an exact cause could never be determined. In the neighboring country to the north, the hypothesis of a virus in combination with Varroa was handled, and in the old continent, it was attributed to a type of agrochemical pesticide.

Since then, some regions show very strong declines and we believe it is due to a combination of several factors. Currently, among beekeepers in Ontario, Canada, there are winter losses of over 80 percent. In a normal beekeeping cycle, the economic impacts are five to 10 percent, and in strong winter periods up to 15 percent.

"Since the collapse of the beehives, much attention has been paid to bees; before, the fundamental role they play was not taken into account. Today we all have a notion that bees are important. Before in our region, we were afraid of them because of the Africanization process we went through in the eighties and nineties."

A fundamental part of Bee Day is dissemination. It is a day to organize as many events as possible and bring bees closer to the public. Let there be no doubt as to why bees are important, and that they are thousands and diverse. It is important that more than 20,000 species of bees on our planet fulfill the function of pollination and that we must protect them.

As citizens, the academic recommends having less aggressive practices with the environment, taking advantage of the resources we have, using them, and reducing the generation of garbage.

"We can favor the vegetation of our environment. Some flowers are very universal for bees, such as lavender, but we need to analyze in our regions which flowers are typical of the region and try to have them in our gardens so that native bees have resources," he concludes.