Bee-odiversity

In Fermenting Revolution I wrote about “beerodiversity,” using beer to explain the importance of biodiversity in nature. Which do you prefer: a monocrop of industrial light lagers made with corn, or a handful of local breweries each producing a dozen different styles, releasing special brews during different seasons and experimenting with locally available, fresh ingredients?

(That’s a rhetorical question.)

It turns out, surprise, surprise, the same lesson can be learned using bees as an example. Just like BudMillerCoors blandified the historically diverse creature of beer into one pale fizzy ghost of its former self, so has industrial agriculture come to rely on a single pollinator for the majority of food crops. The Western Honeybee is the monocrop of the bee world.

The problem with monocrops is that a lack of diversity carries massive risks. A single disease can wipe out a species in one swell foop. When that happens – as it is right now with honeybees – the whole system can collapse, which in this case means food crops are at risk because they rely on these bees for pollination. The Irish potato blight is an extreme example of the dire consequences of a monocrop failure. According to one study, a third of global food production requires pollination from animals such as bees, birds and bats.

Just a few of the food crops that require insect pollination:

  • apples
  • cherries
  • almonds
  • olives
  • coconut
  • beans
  • peaces
  • dates
  • lettuce
  • onions
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes
  • green peppers
  • blueberries
  • black pepper
  • mustard
  • tea
  • and … omigod … COFFEE!

This website has a list of insect-pollinated food crops. And check out John Blatchford’s articles, who commented on my post earlier today. He’s written a lot about bees and their interaction with industrial agriculture.

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2 Responses to Bee-odiversity

  1. Aaron Bodmer says:

    Another consequence of a mobile monopolistic agricultural component ( bees ) is that it encourages more frequent contact between otherwise separated populations. In a more natural population level, a disease that wipes out one colony would be far less likely to sweep across the entire population as it is with the bees.

    From what I understand, some commercial bee service providers ( i have no idea what the industry calls them – “Hives for Hire” ?) drive thier hives from farm to farm, pollinating crops across a wide service region. This practice probably contributes to the spread of any bee-borne disease or parasites, if the come into contact with local bees or plants pollinated by local/wild bees or whatver.

    And this brings it to what I worry may be a issue that hasn’t been focussed on yet … maybe because it isn’t an issue, but … to what degree are wild / non-agricultural polllinators being affected by this? And, in turn, to what degree are wild flora populations experiencing a loss of pollinators?

    I hate to delve too deeply into a subject about which I have limited knowledge, but the thought occured to me, and leaves me with some concern.

    In any case, your essential argument – from diversity comes health / strength is one I definitely agree with.

  2. beeractivist says:

    I don’t know the answer to your question about how other pollinators are being affected, but since honeybees themselves are one of the main pollinators, their disappearance is itself a serious concern.

    I’m curious to find out whether there are some less popular types of honeybees that I could raise. My first hive is of Italians, which is a standard honeybee type. But it seems like there must be others that, if kept by more people, would help diversify the gene pool.

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