Pollination is simply the transfer of pollen from the male part of a flower (the stamen) to the female (the pistil). This process is essential in enabling the plants to fertilise, and pollination is the crucial pre-requisite for actual fruit production.
Bees come into the equation because they are pollinators. A lot of plants require cross-pollination, which means that plants require the pollen from another variety altogether to fertilise, while some are self-fruitful (can use the pollen of their own species). Cross pollination harbours the benefit of usually enhancing fruit quality.
Bees are used as the medium of transport for pollen to reach other plants- so play an incredibly vital role. To take advantage of this, growers will station their plants at certain lengths from one another, and within the same area, to encourage bees to pollinate specific varieties.
There have been significant worries about the recent decline in bee populations in Britain and around other parts of the globe. Around a third of all the food we consume is reliant upon bee pollination, so their decline will be felt as the world’s food requirements increase (see article: Food Security).
There have been a number of factors studied that could be affecting the numbers of bees. This includes modern intensive farming methods, increased use of pesticides and certain diseases. However one of the main reasons is the low genetic diversity within some species.
Low genetic diversity means that the gene pool is smaller, and so there is less chance for a resistance gene to be held by the species, so more diseases can be detrimental to more varieties.
A new theory about potential diseases has been investigated, coming to the conclusion it may be the presence of a fungal disease (Nosema cerenae) in conjunction with a group of viral infections called RNA, these although not being as harmful individually, together have led to the deaths of many bees.
Another of the major causes of this modern case of Colony Collapse Disorder is the use of pesticides and insecticides, which can be toxic to bees. These insecticides can kill bees on spray contact, or can contaminate the pollen of plants, and then indirectly contaminate a whole hive as a result.
There has been a lot of debate over this issue. Bees do account for an enormous amount of the food we eat, and if the decline does not stop will we die out? Cases of Colony Collapse Disorder have been prevalent all throughout agricultural history, so there is nothing new.
The problem is that modern farming techniques and the use of pesticides and insecticides have heightened the risk of a greater fall in numbers.
However there is no evidence that if bees die out, the human race will follow. It is probably too speculative a statement to bear any real fruit. Despite this, the fact remains that bees play an immensely important role in food production, and with their decline, there is a real fear that coupled with the exponential rise in population, food will become harder to obtain for millions.
One thing is certain to beekeeper Michael Weaver- “Without bees, our world would be a very dreary place to live. So many delicious fruits wouldn’t be available and so many wonderful plants wouldn’t be able to propagate and reproduce, a very dull and dreary place indeed”.