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We Need Bees

We Need Bees

Pollinators Help Humans and Plants Survive

In the intricate tapestry of our natural world, few creatures play a more pivotal role than the humble bee. Often overlooked, these buzzing insects are not just nature's artisans but indispensable contributors to our very existence. As we navigate challenges like food security and environmental sustainability, understanding the critical importance of bees becomes paramount.

The vast majority of plant species-- almost 90%-- rely on pollinators to reproduce. Pollination is the process by which pollinators help plants to produce fruit (technically anything with seeds on the inside, so that includes things we usually think of as vegetables, like cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes) by transporting pollen from one flower to another. Approximately 200,000 different species of animals around the world act as pollinators. Of these, about 1,000 are vertebrates, such as birds, bats, and small mammals, and the rest are invertebrates, including flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and bees. Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species.


  • Produce ⅓ of our food supply by giving us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Bees are the main pollinators of our food plants

  • Provide ½ of the world’s oils, fibers (such as the cotton used to make clothes), and other raw materials

  • Are used to create many medicines

  • Provide food and cover for wildlife

  • Keep waterways clean

  • Prevent soil erosion

  • Produce the oxygen we breathe

  • Absorb CO2, counteracting global climate change

Globally, pollinators are responsible for pollinating more than 1,200 crops. Eighty-seven of the leading 115 food crops, or about 75%, depend on pollinators. Every season, pollination from honey bees, native bees, and flies delivers billions of dollars (U.S.) in economic value. Between $235 and $577 billion (U.S.) worth of annual global food production relies on their contribution. Honey bees contribute $20 billion with native bees contributing $4 billion to the US Economy in 2019 alone. 

Beyond the Harvest

But the importance of bees transcends the realm of agriculture. Many plants that bees pollinate serve as sources of medicine, fibers, and even biofuels. Additionally, bees play a crucial role in sustaining wildlife habitats, and supporting other insects, birds, and mammals that rely on their pollination services.

Ecosystem Guardians

Beyond their direct contributions to human needs, bees are indicators of ecosystem health. Their population trends reflect environmental changes, including habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate shifts. A decline in bee populations signals broader ecological imbalances that can have far-reaching consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

Guardians of Genetic Diversity

Moreover, bees contribute to genetic diversity by facilitating cross-pollination, which strengthens plant resilience to diseases and pests. In a world facing climate change and evolving pathogens, preserving genetic diversity is crucial for developing resilient crops and ensuring global food security.

The Threats We Face

Despite their immense importance, bees face numerous threats. Habitat loss due to urbanization and intensive agriculture deprives them of foraging grounds and nesting sites. Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, have been linked to bee population declines by disrupting their navigation, communication, and reproductive abilities.

Furthermore, climate change alters the timing of flowering plants, affecting the synchronization between bees and their floral resources. Diseases and parasites also pose significant challenges to bee health, impacting both wild and managed populations.

A Call to Action

Protecting bees requires a multifaceted approach that addresses these various threats. Conservation efforts must focus on preserving and restoring bee habitats, reducing pesticide usage through sustainable agricultural practices, and promoting awareness and education about the importance of bees.

Individuals can contribute by creating bee-friendly gardens, supporting local beekeepers, and advocating for policies that prioritize pollinator protection. By recognizing the critical role of bees and taking concerted action to safeguard their future, we not only ensure our own well-being but also preserve the rich tapestry of life on which we all depend.

The Importance of Honey Bees

Honeybees are among the most numerous and efficient pollinator species in the world. Considering that the average honey bee can visit more than 2,000 flowers in one day, these bees significantly increase the chances of a plant producing a fruit or vegetable.

Honeybees are the species most commonly used as commercial pollinators in the US. They are managed and used to pollinate over 100 crops grown in North America and contribute $20 billion annually to the US economy. Many crops, such as almonds, which contribute $4.8 billion to the US industry yearly, rely on honey bees for more than 90% of their pollination.

However, honey bees pollinate crops and wild and native plants, thus contributing to all the environmental and societal benefits attributed to pollinators in general.

Honey Bees in Decline

Honey bees are vital to our ecosystem, acting as highly efficient pollinators for food crops and wild flora. We need bees to keep our crops and earth healthy, but in recent years, their numbers have decreased by the billions. This decline has been linked to several factors, including parasites such as varroa mites, which bite bees and infect them with fatal viruses (read more about varroa mites here!), the use of pesticides that poison bees, and monoculture farming, which prevents them from having a varied diet.

Last year, in 2022-2023, 48.2 % of managed beehives in the US died. The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million colonies (beehives) in 1947 to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today. Overwintering loss rates have increased from the historical rate of 10-15% to approximately 30%, and beekeepers have collectively lost approximately 10 million beehives.

The Role of Native Bees

Did you know there are 4,000 different bee species native to North America? These bees vary widely, from cuckoo bees to bumble bees. Some are smaller than an eighth of an inch, while others are more than an inch long. They range from metallic green or blue to dark brown or black to striped red or orange.

Native bees are often overlooked because they aren't domesticated or because some don't look like "traditional" bees (fuzzy, black, and yellow). But these bees are the original residents of North America, who quietly and industriously pollinate our crops side by side with the honey bee.

Native bees might not spend much time in the spotlight but significantly contribute to our environment and economy. In 2019, the crop benefits from native insect pollination in the United States were valued at more than 4 billion dollars.

Sadly, native bees are struggling just as much as honey bees. Many species are endangered (read more about their endangerment here), and a few have gone extinct. The factors that harm managed honey bees also harm wild bees, such as parasites, pathogens, and poor nutrition due to monoculture farms. 

Now more than ever, we must find new and innovative ways to protect these national treasures and preserve the balance of our ecosystem.

Read about ways to help the bees from your own backyard!

We Need Bees

Recommended Books


“Honey Bees”. United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. February 10, 2017.!ut/p/z1/04_iUlDg4tKPAFJABpSA0fpReYllmemJJZn5eYk5-hH6kVFm8X6Gzu4GFiaGPu6uLoYGjh6Wnt4e5mYGwa6m-l76UfgVFGQHKgIAB3fNrQ!!/

“Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations”. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. June 20, 2014.

“Native Pollinators: Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet.” National Resources Conservation Service. Wildlife Habitat Management Institute. May 2005.

“Pollinators Need You. You Need Pollinators.” Pollinator Partnership.

The Important of Pollinators

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