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Adverse effects of Air Pollution on Bees and Pollination

Adverse effects of Air Pollution on Bees and Pollination

It has been asserted many times by leading researchers, scientists and other environmental professionals that if bees were to deplete in numbers or perish from the face of the Earth, then it would pose grave consequences for the whole ecosystem.
These are pretty interesting creatures as well and they are being threatened in more ways than one. “Bees start out on the inside of the hive and work their way out. The honey bees we normally see buzzing about flowers are some of the older ones.”, quips Joseph, who is a bee enthusiast. He also speaks about how bees might be dying out due to the lack of genetic diversity caused by farmers who want only a few specific types.

These tiny, black and yellow, furry little winged earthlings are way more important to the life-cycle than one could ever imagine, but due to daily human activities taking a serious toll on the environment, especially in the form of air pollution, they have been exposed to serious threats affecting their life and health. Why are bees so vital for us? How does air pollution lead to their declining health? What can be done to prevent this calamity?

The importance of bees goes far beyond than just honey. Bees are known to be the “Perfect Pollinators”. They are responsible for the natural pollination of almost 90% of the leading crop types, including apples, coffee, vanilla, cotton, etc. Plants required as feed for livestock used in meat production, such as alfalfa and clover, are also pollinated by bees. Thus, our very diet is depended on pollination by bees. Since bees keep the life-cycle going, the quality of their health is also an excellent indicator in judging the health of the environment. India, being one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables, owes its success to pollinators like bees.

Adverse effects of Air Pollution on Bees and Pollination
Adverse effects of Air Pollution on Bees and Pollination

A study in India pointed out that even mildly unclean air could lead to the decimation of almost 80% of Giant Asian Honey Bees, which is the key pollinator in South Asia and also responsible for producing over 80% of the country’s honey produce. The study, conducted in Bengaluru (since it has been dominating the list of “most polluted cities”) for 3 years across four sites, reveals that air pollution makes navigating for nectar difficult for bees which disturbs the pollination process and also makes them “sluggish” and shortens their life span.

Further analysis even revealed damage to antennae and heart tissue. It was observed that the bees in this pollution-riddled area had arrhythmic heartbeats (poor cardiac health), a low blood cell count (poor immunity), and displayed signs of stress. Some dead bees were also found to be smothered with various toxic metal particles such as arsenic, lead, tungsten, etc, their bodies were described as a “warzone”.

Olli Loukola, a behavioural ecologist, commended the study by stating that, “This is an important and timely study as these findings are the first to document the impact of air pollution on insects, and they emphasize just how far-ranging the effects of human-caused pollution can be”.

All is not lost yet. We can stop the decline in the number of bees by taking up some simple measures for the greater good. Some of these can be:

Photo by Joseph Foster
  • Raising awareness on the threats faced by the bees and stressing on how ‘un-bee-lievably’ important the bees are for the ecosystem. This can be done by writing articles and blogs, “sponsoring hives”, initiatives like donating to and supporting local beekeepers or apiculture farms, etc.
  • Try to use minimum amount of chemicals and pesticides as they prove to be harmful for bees that seek flowers for nectar in gardens.
  • Join a ‘Bee Conservancy’ movement or initiatives that focus on this issue.

Keeping in view the importance of bee-keeping and to achieve the goal of Sweet Revolution, the Government of India approved a Central Sector Scheme “National Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NHBM)” for overall promotion and development of scientific beekeeping and production of quality of honey and protecting the health of honey bees.

Photo by Joseph Foster

Even small fixes, as those mentioned above, can make big differences, hence it is important to undertake rapid measures in order to maintain a healthy population of bees.







Adverse effects of Air Pollution on Bees and Pollination

Written By Arya Nanal; Guest inputs by Joseph Foster

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