Where Have the Bees Gone?
Why have tens of millions of dollars been invested in studying this phenomenon, and how is it related to our lives? A socio-ecological programme is underway, following the bees’ mysterious disappearance
It is reasonable to assume that when our sages coined the phrase “not from your honey and not from your sting” they were not familiar with the great contribution of bee pollination to the ecosystem. Pollination is necessary both for the continued existence of plant communities in open landscapes and for the reproduction and production of food crops from agricultural lands.
Besides producing honey, the main contribution of the honey bee is pollination of various agricultural crops and the diverse wildflowers of Israel. A wide range of other important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, flood prevention, prevention of soil erosion, and water purification indirectly depend on pollination services, which play a role in determining the amount and types of vegetation making up the ground cover. Another benefit of pollination is of course, honey production.
Due to climate change, use of chemical pesticides on agricultural land and shrinking bee foraging areas, there has been a significant and disturbing decrease in the number of wild bees and honey bees in Israel and around the world. This decrease has significant consequences for the ecosystem’s pollination services, essential for maintaining biodiversity and for human existence in general.
Honey bees feed on vegetation and collect two main types of food from plants: nectar and pollen. The nectar provides sugar and energy and the pollen provides proteins that facilitate the development of the bee colony. The shrinking of bee foraging areas in Israel, for various reasons, limits the amount of food available to the bees, harms hive development, and forces bees to collect food from non-natural sources.
Most agricultural crops require pollination for fruit production. A large part of this pollination is carried out by honey bees, but in recent years it has become evident that other insects from the wild play an important role in providing pollination services to agriculture. For more than 40 major agricultural crops around the world, wild pollinators improve pollination efficiency, doubling the amount of fruit in comparison to pollination by honey bees alone. Wild pollinators maintain the health of the ecosystems and habitats that also support many other organisms. They are also important pollinators for agricultural crops, but most of their contribution goes unseen.
The Education Department at Ramat Hanadiv is currently running an innovative pilot programme designed for young adults, in which they lead a socio-ecological study about bees. The main aims of the programme are to create an affinity among the students for the environment they live in through an experience of wonder, to convey knowledge of the natural and human systems in their nearby environment and the links between them, to promote critical thinking and to encourage involvement and action for humans and the environment within expanding circles of influence. The programme will be guided by ecologists and researchers from Ramat Hanadiv, the Technion and Tel Aviv University.
According to Dr. Yael Navon, the program’s leader, the study will try to shed light on the range of conditions and factors supporting the existence of wild bees and honey bees and their distribution in the shared human-agricultural-natural living space; including mapping nectar-rich plants and monitoring the abundance of wild bees, honey bees and other pollinators under the ‘field conditions’ of different land uses.
The students will become familiar with the agricultural uses, income, produce and products related to bees and will examine perceptions and opinions of residents and officials in the region with respect to wild bees and honey bees. In addition, they will elucidate the policies of the local councils with respect to supporting pollinators (integrating nectar-rich plants in spatial planning, protecting open green landscapes, limiting the use of chemical pesticides and so on) and how they can be promoted.
“To date”, says Navon, “the students participating in the programme have expressed much curiosity and interest in the world of bees. Within the framework of this programme they acquire knowledge and understanding of the importance of bees for humans and for the ecosystem. After studying and establishing their knowledge base, we expect the programme’s students to demonstrate initiative and involvement in their actions. With the students’ help, we hope to raise awareness of this issue within the region’s wider community and to contribute in different ways to the continued existence of wild bees in our region.”
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