The bee is small among flying creatures,
but what it produces is the best of sweet things.
- Ecclesiasticus 11.3The writer of Ecclesiasticus knew how wonderful honey is, but honey is only the second best gift we receive from bees.Yesterday's post may have been too obscure for some. I was attempting to draw attention to the latest UN report on global biodiversity Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, which is not a happy read. Here is a summary paragraph from page 67:
"The trends from available indicators suggest that the state of biodiversity is declining, the pressures upon it are increasing, and the benefits derived by humans from biodiversity are diminishing, but that the responses to address its loss are increasing. The overall message from these indicators is that despite the many efforts taken around the world to conserve biodiversity and use it sustainably, responses so far have not been adequate to address the scale of biodiversity loss or reduce the pressure."On average, since 1970, wild vertebrate numbers have declined by almost one third, with highest losses in freshwater ecosystems (41%) and in the tropics (59%) (page 24). "The proportion of warm-water coral, bird, mammal and amphibian species expected to survive into the near future without additional conservation actions has declined over time." (page 29) There is more area designated as protected, but pressures on biodiversity are increasing.
Why does it matter? Well, apart from the inherent beauty of God's diverse creativity (which was part of the point of yesterday's post), here is a useful answer from page 23:
"Biodiversity is the variation that exists not just between the species of plants, animals, micro-organisms and other forms of life on the planet – but also within species, in the form of genetic diversity, and at the level of ecosystems in which species interact with one another and with the physical environment.Which brings us back to honeybees. Honeybees are not the most threatened species. They are not the most rapidly declining species. But they are becoming one of the new poster species for illustrating the economic value of biodiversity, because their contribution to the global economy through pollination is a staggering £26 billion per year (more than AU$43 billion). Honeybees are the primary pollinator for 90 commercial crops worldwide, including cotton, coffee, soya beans, clovers (used for cattle feed), nuts, sunflowers and a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, like apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots. Without their work, our diet would be far less tasty, since one third of crop species grown in the US would decline, disappear or become prohibitively expensive.
"This diversity is of vital importance to people, because it underpins a wide range of ecosystem services on which human societies have always depended, although their importance has often been greatly undervalued or ignored. When elements of biodiversity are lost, ecosystems become less resilient and their services threatened. More homogeneous, less varied landscapes or aquatic environments are often more vulnerable to sudden external pressures such as disease and climatic extremes."
But since 2006, honeybees in many countries have shown alarming drops in population, often with entire colonies suddenly collapsing (in what has been creatively called colony collapse disorder). As yet, the causes are not well established. Although this problem is not global and its severity can be overstated, it is nonetheless emblematic of our dependence upon a highly complex and only partially understood network of life which is rapidly unravelling under our influence.
Bee troubles have even made their way into Douglas Coupland's most recent novel, Generation A, something of a belated sequel to his iconic novel Generation X (which coined the phrase). Not far into the future, bees have apparently been driven into functional extinction, and the narrative traces the tales of five individuals who are all suddenly stung, becoming unlikely symbols of hope in a world grown more fragile and desperate. It wasn't a perfect novel, but it was fun. I give it a bee minus.