S . K Basu
In recent decades the disappearance of bees has intensified across the planet. This sharp and severe decay is mainly due to a combination of factors such as the abundant use of pesticides, fungicides and insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. This compound interferes with the ability of the bees to guide themselves back to their hives. Such pesticides cause damage to the nervous system of the bees; thereby putting obstacles to their learning abilities and even making them incapable of performing basic survival skills. Being unable to return to their hives and nests and to feed themselves; the bees die out in large numbers. Consequently a disorder and collapse occurring in bee hives known as Colony Collapse Disorder has been decimating honey bees worldwide.
On the other hand, parasitic diseases caused by mites (like Varroa destructor) have also been affecting bee colonies significantly. The lack of sufficient natural melliferous flora has been also been responsible for the inadequate supply of nectar and pollens for foraging bees in their natural ecosystems. Furthermore, Global Warming and Climate Change, extensive use of monocultures in agriculture, changes in land use patterns as well rapid growth of rural and urban centers and industries causing detrimental environment pollution have all been contributing towards the rapid decline of both native bees and honey bees cumulatively over time.
Pollination has a fundamental role as a natural ecosystem service. The role of bees in food production is paramount, since one in three foods consumed by humans is a direct product of pollination. It should be noted that pollination is a process that has led to sustainable activities such as beekeeping (apiculture), which at the same time safeguard biological diversity and habitat continuity. This has great ecological and socio-economic importance, as there are millions of people involved and employed in the apiculture industry as their sole livelihood worldwide.
Furthermore, in addition to honey; natural bee’s wax, royal jelly, therapeutic pollen and propolis can also be obtained from the bees; the last two products are extensively used in apitherapy. On the other hand, pollination contributes to the beautification of the planet, because it is through the bees that the growth of natural flora is perpetuated, which serves as habitats for other species such as other insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Natural cross pollination is an important biological process of successfully executing sexual reproduction in numerous plant species as well as industrial and commercial crops.
It is therefore important to emphasize that globally we are not only facing the rapid decline of bee populations; but also the continued loss of biodiversity. Since many species dependent on these pollinators are at the same time primordial element in the food chains and food webs operating in the natural ecosystems. The bees pollinate plants that are food for many species of animals including human. Around 90% of the wild plants depend on natural pollinators like insects (bees, moths, butterflies, some species beetles and flies), mollusks (certain species of snails and slugs), birds (some humming bird species) and mammals (like pollinator-friendly bats) for their existence. In certain cases, without the pollinator, the plant can not exist and vice versa.
Hence it is important to establish pollinator (bee) gardens or habitats or sanctuaries at suitable sites to help the decline of bee and other insect pollinator populations to thrive back once again. Such pollinator (bee) gardens or habitats or sanctuaries could be easily established in and around forested areas, unused and/or unsuitable agricultural lands, open and unused spaces in both rural and urban settlements, city and municipal parks, gardens and lawns, kitchen gardens, adjacent to water bodies(like irrigation canals, ditches, ponds, swamps, bogs, lakes and streams an river beds).
Special pollinator (bee) foraging plants can be used to establish such pollinator (bee) gardens or habitats or sanctuaries, called Pollinator Mixes. Such pollinator Mixes could include species common in the local indigenous melliferous flora such as native/indigenous wildflowers along with annual/biennial/perennial forage crops to attract wide diversity of pollinator insect species to such unique ecological habitats. Pollinator Mixes can also include native grasses and/or forage grasses that can help build ecosystems by attracting pollinator insects and local wildlife together to inhabit, nest, forage and breed successfully. Grasses can help in the phytoremediation of unsuitable agronomic sites turned into pollinator habitats; while forage legumes included in the Pollinator Mix can enrich the soil via active nitrogen fixation. The organic mat developing on soil over time could thus help in rendering agronomically unsuitable lands into fertile agricultural tracts over time.
Pollinator (bee) gardens or habitats or sanctuaries established along aquatic habitats as mentioned above can also help in establishing complex and dynamic ecosystems by providing conservation to bees, birds and fishes all together under one umbrella using an Integrated Ecological Habitat Development for Bees, Birds and Fishes (IEHD-BBF) model. Such an innovative ecosystem model can thereby cater to a larger number of local species by bringing them under the folds of conservation in addition to providing protection to the bees and other insect pollinators.
An aquatic and terrestrial habitat combined can provide more dynamic and functional natural and or artificial ecosystems for several species to thrive together. A well established pollinator garden will attract both insects and various terrestrial birds. If indigenous fishes could be introduced in an aquatic habitat integrated with an adjacent pollinator habitat; it will also attract both resident and migratory species of different aquatic birds and water fowls in large numbers. Thus over time such pollinator (bee) gardens or habitats or sanctuaries can transform into complete and complex ecosystems turning into a refuge for conserving local biodiversity and restoring fragmented and fragile local ecosystems and environment.
The decline of bees is a serious threat for the global ecological balance. Bees possess an immeasurable value; therefore, without it the diversity, integrity and balance of our natural ecosystems are being devastatingly threatened and compromised around the planet. It is therefore pertinent that immediate actions must be taken to slow down and prevent the incessant decline of bee populations across the planet in developed as well as developing and under developed nations.