Bees are the world’s most important pollinators, and, therefore, critical to the world’s food supply. In their collection of pollen and nectar for food supplies, they move pollen from male flower parts to female receptors, fertilizing the plants. Wild bees perform this function, as do other animals, but honey bees are particularly important to food crops, as they can be managed by farmers and introduced where needed.
The public was made aware of the importance of bees following the winter of 2006-2007, when the honey bee population dropped precipitously, causing tremors throughout the agricultural community and sending scientists scrambling for explanations.
Given the role these winged insects play in the world’s food supply, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed resources such as the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture to compile a list of crops that would be most affected if honey bees disappeared.
Since then, some progress has been made in understanding bee loss. We know that viruses, parasites, pesticides, and loss of habitat play a role. With these insights, farmers, beekeepers, environmental scientists, and even individual homeowners have been working to improve the conditions necessary for bee survival. But the crisis is far from over. According to a recent survey of beekeepers, 37.7% of managed honey bee colonies were lost during the winter of 2018-2019, up from a 13-year average colony loss rate of 28.8%.
There is good reason to fear the continued loss of pollinators, as habitat is lost and pesticides — even those used to exterminate mites and other pests that threaten bee populations — create a toxic environment for pollinators. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N., 78%-94% of the Earth’s flower and seed-producing plants depend on bees and other animal pollinators for their survival, with honey bees serving as an important supplement to native insects.
The plant world provides many benefits, including forage resources, shelter and nesting habitats for birds and animals, and stability for the world’s ecosystems. Our diets would be severely limited without pollinators. We would have plenty of wheat and other grains that rely on wind for pollination, but we would sorely miss the abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetables that make our meals varied, tasty, and nutritious, such as blueberries and raspberries. These are the best foods for your gut health.
Some crops rely entirely on bee pollinators and some less so. Of those that rely on bees, Americans would likely not miss rowanberry, passion fruit, and brazil nuts as much as they would watermelon, pumpkin, kiwis, and squash.
What’s more, increased crop yields attributed to honey bees add $15 billion to the American economy each year. Reduction in bee populations can be devastating to our nation’s economic health and result in scarcity for some of our favorite foods, such as those listed below.