Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Tiny Insect Carries Human Civilization on its Wings?

The White family has been keeping bees and producing honey since 1919. My grandfather, Harry Oliver White (MP, Middlesex 1945-1963), was a respected apiarist who decades ago expanded the family honey business, shipping tons (literally!) of pure white honey to England during World War II.

Today, our bee colony is a much smaller enterprise, consisting of only a few boxes tucked into a quiet clearing in White’s Wetlands. This colony continues to supply the family and a dedicated following of “honey purists” who know and appreciate the quality of the honey my father—with the help of his little friends, of course—produces every year. Every September, after a frantically busy summer hovering around the pretty woodland wildflowers, pollinating and gathering, our hardworking bees honour us with the fruit of their labour. What we eventually pail for human consumption is the colour of liquid gold.

In fact, honey might one day become as rare and as costly as a precious metal. The honey bee and many other natural pollinators are in jeopardy. If the survival of pollinators is threatened, then our survival is too. Anyone who likes to eat—and I don’t mean just honey—will be impacted by the loss of the honey bee.

I guess that means all of us, uh?

In other words, honey bees are essential to human existence. One could even go so far as to say that the future of human civilization rests on their ability to survive all that we have inflicted on this planet. Simply put, humans need bees more than bees need humans.

Consider these well-documented facts:

 At least 80% of our world's crop plant species require pollination.
 Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants (Buchmann and Nabhan, 1996; Free, 1970 In Tepedino, 1979; and McGregor, 1976 In Tepedino, 1993).
 Indeed, one out of every third bite of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators.

And finally,

 Pollinators support biodiversity! There is a positive correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity (Heithaus, 1974 In Tepedino, 1979; Moldenke, 1975 In Tepedino, 1979; del Moral and Standley, 1979 In Tepedino, 1979).

Our honey bees are a respected part of the White’s Wetland family. We believe that respecting bees for what they are and recognizing their service to humanity are the first steps to ensuring that they remain with us for a long time to come.

The story of the honey bee is just another example of how humanity has survived and thrived thanks to the gifts of the natural world. Our sad track record shows that we humans have rarely repaid nature in kind. The ultimate moral of this story is that we might end up paying the biggest price of all.

To learn more about the potential loss of honey bees and other pollinators, please view this video and visit some of the organizations listed below. And “spread” the word, because education is key to making sure that everyone understands what is at stake.

Pollinator Partnership
Canadian Honey Council
Ontario Beekeepers’ Association

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