A recently completed three-year study of bee pollination has helped to reinforce the insects’ importance to global ecosystems and agriculture. The study estimates that bee pollination is worth about $3,000 per hectare, which puts that value into the billions of dollars globally. Anyone who knows anything about agriculture likely knows that bees are important to many plants, but that fact hasn’t always kept bee populations safe.
The study found that about 2% of bee species were responsible for around 80% of bee pollination, or 785 of 20,000 known species. That might lead some people, especially government officials, to believe that protecting those bees is all that matters. But that other 20% of pollination is important too, and is maintained by the other 78% of bee species. Any drop in bee biodiversity, then, could be dangerous.
Agricultural changes and the use of pesticides can destroy bee populations, which is dangerous in the long run. Part of the reason that bee biodiversity needs to be maintained is that, left to their own devices, ecosystems change over time, and different species can and do adapt to different roles, throughout nature. This could be true of bees as well, as a drop in one species’ population might lead to a different species taking on some of their neighbor’s pollination role. As human action continues to change the way plants grow, and what plants are growing in a given area, that biodiversity can help preserve the pollination of those plants.
And it isn’t just agriculture. Crops aside, bees are responsible for pollinating a huge array of wild plants too, all of which play important roles in their local ecosystems. Any loss of wild bee populations could result in devastating consequences for whole ecosystems, and just because they don’t contain crops doesn’t mean those ecosystems aren’t important.