The scientific community has presented numerous numbers of evidence to the world as to the benefits that farmers have derived out of honey bees. These insects have been credited with not only producing honey but also improving the yields that farmers get to have from their produce. In many areas around the globe such as in California they are reared by farmers for just this purpose. The farmers are at times forced to bring these bees in from other areas. There are various effects that these bees have been shown to have on the yield of different crops. There are also various quarters of the scientific world that presents evidence to show that the effect of these insects is being overstated. Both of these points of view will be presented in this research paper. The paper will also mention Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) a condition that was first reported in the United States in 2006. This is one that affects the population of the honey bees and therefore the yields that can be achieved by a given farmer.
Bees play a very important role in the ecosystem of the United States. This is in spite of the fact that most people have associated these tiny animals to being a nuisance especially in the summer months. One of the functions that most people know bees for is in the production of honey. This is one of natural ingredient that is known for a lot of its health benefits. In the process of producing honey bees perform one other function that is going to be the point of discussion of this literature review.
This function is that of pollination. Pollination is a function of science that allows for the production of certain plants. Pollination occurs in the flower. This is where pollen is delivered to the stigma. This would eventually lead to fertilization of the flower, which would then lead to the development of the seeds and the fruit. These seeds and fruits at times are used for the purposes of producing more plants. The function of removing pollen from the anthers to the stigma is majorly the function of various animals that are known as pollinators. These animals include the likes of birds and bees and they perform this function in a number of ways.
Plants like all living organisms depend on fertilization to reproduce. This occurs in the flower part of a plant, for flowering plants. The process is unique to the class of plants referred to as angiosperms. Other non flowering plants usually utilize other methods of reproductions. The process of pollination is usually a very easy process that is affected by what are known as pollinators.
The basic process of fertilization begins with the production of pollen on the male part of the flower known as the anther. The female part of the flower that is known as the stigma is the point at which this pollen is meant to attach itself to. The stigma has a long tube which connects it to the other female part known as the ovary. The ovary is the part that contains the eggs. Once the pollen is on the stigma it will move down the tube to the ovary. Here it meets the egg and fertilization then occurs.
The process of moving the pollen from the anthers to the stigma requires the use of an agent. This agent is what is known as a pollinator. There are various types of pollinators. Examples of which include birds, bees, insects, bats among other animals. The other agent may be such factors as wind, which blows the pollen from the anthers onto the stigma in various plants. This is the method widely used in the pollination of plants such as maize and grapes. In a report by Claire in 2002, they suggest that even with plants that use other vectors for the purposes of pollination there still is a role that is played by bees. They contend that this improves the quality of the seeds and the fruits that are produced by this manner. This is because with the use of animal vectors as pollinators, there is an increased possibility of cross pollination (Claire et. al. 42). This biological process would usually improve the yields that may be achieved later on with the same crops.
The honey bee factor
There is need to delve deeper into how pollination occurs with bees as a vector. This is so as to provide further insight into the great importance that is played by these animals. The same report by Claire contends that female bees are among the few animals that would usually utilize pollen for food. This is so as to provide their growing larvae with the necessary energy needed to mature. They therefore move from flower to flower picking up the pollen. This is through a natural adaptation that has made this easier for them to do so. They have hair on various parts of their anatomy to which pollen easily adheres to. As the pollen does this it is more likely to be transported to a different flower as the bee is moving from one flower to another. Even though this characteristic is majorly found in the female bee, male bees also play some role in the movement of pollen.
In pollination what the bees do is that they move from one flower to another. It is usually attracted to the flower by either its sweet smell or its bright color. The flower produces pollen juice that the bee uses for the reason of producing sweet honey and wax. As the bee is settling onto the flower, pollen would usually stick onto it. When the bee then moves from one flower to the next one the pollen will then attach itself to the stigma of the other flower. This is a process that is useful in the fertilization of a variety of plants. These plants include apples, cantaloupes, alfalfa among other plants.
At this point in time the most major concern of most farmers, policy setters and some government departments is the decrease in the number of these insects. There are a number of gains that can be derived from this single function of the bees. In essence the pollination effect affects many local and regional economies. This will in the end affect the overall national economy. This is because these different regional economics make some form of contribution to the overall economy.
The next concern is that their dwindling numbers will see a reduction in the number of certain fruits and plants. This is because some of these plants heavily rely on the bees for the purpose of pollination, which eventually leads to fruit production. By the laws of economics a decrease in these fruits while there is equal or increasing demand will result in a spike of the prices of these commodities. This has various economical repercussions.
A good example of the effect of bees on local economies can be easily studied in California, as in the Claire report. In the report California is quoted as being heavily reliant on the pollination of plants by bees. This is because out of the annual value of $16.5 billion in agricultural related food produced in the state about $4.2 billion of it, in 1997, was related to bees. This is a very significant part of the whole that these insects have been credited with.
One should be careful though, because in the calculation of these values various assumptions may have been made. This would usually vary depending on the method used to determine this value. This can be evidenced by the research analysis that was done by Winfree and her group (Winfree, Gross & Kremen 12). This study established that employing different methods led to results that were varying with a very high degree. This would mean that any future studies that are meant to establish the true cost needs to utilize the right assumptions.
At the time they studied three methods. The initial ones were replacement value method and the production value methods. These two methods were the most widely used. In this case they proposed that these two methods even though widely used had various limitations. One of these limitations was the overestimation of the contribution that was made. They therefore applied a third method known as attributable net income method. In this way the writers sort to minimize the errors that occurred during estimation by taking out the costs that are usually associated with inputs.
Getting back to the point being addressed, the contributions that are made still remain to be very significant. This is even when one applies the different assumptions in their calculation. Also as stated, in seeking to assign a definite value, one may be well informed to take into consideration the various limitations. This are those that may exist with the assumptions that one has chosen to make during the calculations.
Taking a look at their effect in another angle one may choose to look at the statistics presented by vanEngelsdorp and Meixner in their research published in 2009. This study refers to the number of plant species that rely on honey bees for the purposes of pollination. The article mentions that close to half of the slightly over one hundred major food commodities are dependent on bees for the purposes of pollination. They also contend that about five of these plants would not have yields greater than 10% were it not for bee pollination. To make a more solid argument the writers has stated that about 14% of the production in developed countries and 22% in developing countries are as a direct effect of animal vectors (VanEngelsdorp & Meixner 48). Even with the thought that this does not include bees only, one is left to infer that a sizeable amount of this number may be attributed to their intervention. This premise is further supported by the claim made by the United States Department of Agriculture (the USDA) that a third of what is consumed by Americans is as a direct effect of bee pollination.
In a different study that was conducted, the authors tried to establish the effect of diversity on the yields of different crops. The study was conducted in three phases over a period of two months on each phase. To study the effect of pollination without the influence of the bee, they placed meshes to cover the flowers. This reduced the chances that these flowers would get pollinated by the bees. In a different area they decided to self pollinated the flowers by hand. This was done by rubbing the anthers onto the pistils of some flowers. During the study various species of bees were documented in the area and this is believed to have been the main driver of the animal vector responsible for pollination (Hoehn et. al., 2234).
The study was able to establish that various factors get to affect the number of species of bees that may be found in a given population. These largely would play a role in determining the number of species that may be found within a particular population. These different species in themselves have different preference as regards to various characteristics of different type of flowers. These include preferences as to the height of the flower that the bees would visit. There is also the time at which the bees would usually visit these flowers. These play a significant role in the pollination of various different groups of plants. The diversity therefore in any population size picked would therefore be a determinant to the yields that may be achieved in different varieties of plants.
A different study one that was conducted by Walters and Taylor also aimed to study the effect of bee pollination on the quality and quantity of plant. This aimed to study what is their effect on the seed number and also the fruit number and size. The plants in the study were cultivated in area where some bee species were also being reared. These species of bees included the bumble bee, the honey bee, the carpenter bee and the squash bee. In the testing also different varieties of pumpkins were grown. The end result was to measure different aspects of the various types of pumpkins and from that make an evaluation of the effect of the bees on these pumpkins. It was discovered that in some of them there was no real change. In others such as in the introduction of honey bees, there was an increase in the number of fruits that were produced by a number of pumpkin species per given square area. This was measured in terms of the size and in certain cases the weight. The control measure for this which was natural pollination failed to yield full sized fruits at the end of the study period (Walters & Taylor, 371).
Types of bees
There are various varieties of bees that are used for the purposes of pollination. Most of these variations are usually dependent on their geographical location of origin of the bee. In the case of the United States most of the bees that are bred for the purposes of pollination are mainly imported. This is mostly from Europe. The most common varieties of bees that are used in these cases are usually the honey bee and the Native American bee. One may not really get to know all of them as there are over 2000 species of bees in most parts of the world.
In this case there are various studies that have established the effectiveness of the various varieties of bees on different types of plant life. This was mainly being done in comparison to the native varieties of bees that are found in an area. This is due to the fact that the efficacy of most native bee species as pollinators has been studied on rare occasion. This is attributed to the difficulty in estimating their population size and their migratory patterns. That being said studies have shown that native bees are more effective as pollinators when compared to alkali bee with alfalfa and the bumble bee on the watermelon fruit.
All the above is indicative of the increasing effect that bees have grown to have as far as affecting food supply is concerned. It is with that then, there is need to pay attention to the increasing rate at which their numbers is decreasing. The major reasons for this needs to be sort and practical solution devised to help in the solving of the problem. This thought has provoked an increasing number of studies to determine the why and the how this can be done.
Before getting to look at the various different studies of the reduction in number of bee population we need to consider some contrary opinion. In a letter that was written to a publication known as Tree, the writers argue that the scientific community and the public are overplaying the importance of honey bees. This is in regards to their functions as pollinators. They have in the article provided evidence that they say supports their claim for arriving at this conclusion (Jeff et. al. 1). The study, while referring to another study by Tom Breeze and his colleagues, points to evidence that is provided to support the fact that most pollination of crops in the United Kingdom is usually due to the effect of other insect pollinators. To prove this further study by Jeff et. al. looks at evidence from California. The state usually brings in honey bees for the purposes of pollinating different variety of fruits. In this case the study was able to establish that there was an increase in the yield per acre of almonds (measured by weight) despite the fact that there was a reduction in the number of these bees. This was in 2006 when the number of these bees started to decrease at a noticeable rate. They also quote other unpublished works to support this claim.
Colony Collapse Disorder
That being said it still of concern that the number of these insects is dwindling in most areas of the world. This is a condition that is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. This condition is in reference to certain sharp reductions in the population sizes of bees. Different works have cited different periods to which they believe this to have started. Consensus in most of them though is that it has been severe in the past decade. In an article in the National Geographic, Kremen a conservative biologist contends that these shortages would occur from time to time. The only problem is that with this one seems more severe. This may be attributed to the fact that there was no documentation of past incidences of such occurrences (Roach). This reduction in the population of these bees has created yield decreases among the farmers of vegetables and fruits in California according to the article.
There are no precise causes that have yet to be established as the reasons for colony collapse disorder (Johnson, 1). There are various antigens that are thought to be responsible for the reduction in number of these bee species. These antigens affect different species of bee in a variety of ways. This is to say that some species are more susceptible to the effect of certain kinds of factors than other bee varieties. The species that is most affected by these factors are mostly the native bee species. Their population largely decreases with the presence of these factors in any given environment that they are in.
These possible factors have been summarized in the same book by Johnson as pathogens, parasites, environmental stresses and poor bee management practices (Johnson, 8). In his article Roach writes that the greatest of these factors is that of mites. He contends that a particular specie is responsible for a great deal of harm. This is by deforming and shortening the life span of the bees. These mites are also good carriers of various viruses. The other major factor is that of pesticides that are used for the purposes of riding the bees of these mites. These pesticides at the end of it are known to cause great harm to the population of the bees themselves. The other factor especially as relates to native bees is that of ecosystem degradation. This is by the destruction of the habitats by which these bees are dependent on for their survival. This increases the decrease in the number of these bees in a particular ecosystem. This destruction also reduces the number of species that can be found in a given area. In another article by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) they cite global warming as being another cause.
There are a few possible solutions that have been proffered by these different studies to minimize lose in population sizes. This is so as to improve the pollination effect that farmers get from honey bees. These are usually based on the conclusion that these different studies have come up with. One suggestion is by encouraging farmers to use organic methods of pest control as opposed to using pesticides. These methods are still being tested to determine their effectiveness in the control of mites and other pest. There are two that are being reported to show signs of helping. One of them is the use of a certain fungi that would rid the bees of the mites without affecting the bees themselves. The other one that has been proposed is of opening up the hives to more air. This would reduce the effectiveness of the spread of any viruses.
One other proposal is to protect the natural habitats that are home to some of the native bee species. This may temper the reduction in numbers that has been experienced in the past few years. The NRDC also suggest that subsidies be provided to farmers to encourage the repopulation of hives. This will also give them an incentive to protect the habitats that bees utilize around their farms. They also propose that it will help farmers alternate what they are planting so that bees may have food all year round.
There are various functions that bee play in the ecosystem. This is not only limited to the production of honey and wax as thought. Honey bees are of special importance to many farmers who produce a variety of fruits and vegetables as earlier stated. This is because they are a major contributor to the pollination of the flowers of these plants. This will affect the yields that these farmers get to gain from these plants. This has been recently threatened by the increased and consistent decrease in the number of bees that are reared by farmers. There are various factors that have been suggested as the major cause of these. This is despite the fact that studies on the issue have in most cases not been supported by evidential results.
That being said though there are various steps that have been proposed for the purpose of reducing the amount of decline in the number of these bees. These steps include the use of better bee management practices. This is so as to minimize the deaths that are caused by these harmful practices. These few steps are believed to go a long way in improving the numbers of these honey bees. This will at the end of the day improves the productivity that farmers are able to derive out of their farms.