28 Nov Why Bees are Important
It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fibre (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by insects. Pollinating insects also play a critical role in maintaining natural plant communities and ensuring production of seeds in most flowering plants.
Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of a flower of the same species, which results in fertilisation of plant ovaries and the production of seeds. The main insect pollinators, by far, are bees, and while European honey bees are the best known and widely managed pollinators, there are also hundreds of other species of bees, mostly solitary ground nesting species, that contribute some level of pollination services to crops and are very important in natural plant communities.
Bees make excellent pollinators because most of their life is spent on collecting pollen, a source of protein that they feed to their developing offspring. When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs all over the bees’ body attract pollen grains through electrostatic forces. Stiff hairs on their legs enable them to groom the pollen into specialised brushes or pockets on their legs or body, and then carry it back to their nest. Individual bees tend to focus on one kind of flower at a time, which means it is more likely that pollen from one flower will be transferred to another flower of the same species by a particular bee. Many plants require this kind of pollen distribution, known as cross-pollination, in order to produce viable seeds. The business of collecting pollen requires a lot of energy, and so many flowers attract and also reward bees with nectar, a mixture of water and sugars produced by plants.
Bee communities, both wild and managed, have been declining over the last half century as pesticides used in agricultural and urban areas increased. Changes in land use have resulted in a patchy distribution of food and nesting resources. Concerned bee researchers recently met to discuss the current pollinator status and several reports were published about their findings. Since January 2007, there have been a number of reports in the media also about the mysterious disappearance of large numbers of honey bees called colony collapse disorder. This has many growers concerned about how they will continue to be able to pollinate their crops. Now, more than ever, it is critical to consider practices that will benefit pollinators by providing habitats free of pesticides, full of nectar and pollen resources, and with ample potential nesting resources.
We are privileged to have a number of natural beehives at Zimbali, many of them located in the forested areas of the Estate, such as Holy Hill. ZEMA regularly receives calls from Members requesting the removal of beehives from outside their homes, which are carefully relocated to Holy Hill where they remain undisturbed by human interference. By doing this, we ensure the future existence of these tiny, but very important, little creatures.