Why do we need to protect bees?

This is a very tricky question. Recent media coverage and policy makers are increasingly using the “ecosystem services” argument to justify the conservation of bee populations. Bees are indeed providing us with a precious service, the pollination of 75% of our crops. However, “bees” are a diverse group of more than 20.000 species. David Kleijn had the wonderful idea to check how many of those bee species are responsible of crop pollination and I was more than happy to help him find out. This is the resulting paper. Surprisingly very few species made most of the crop pollination job. Moreover, those species are the ones of least conservation concern, as I already showed here.

What does this means? We should enhance agro-ecosystems to maximize crop pollination by bees. There is no doubt about this and repeated papers had shown that more green infrastructure enhance pollinator densities and thereby pollination. BUT if we want to protect the bee species that really need our help, other measures and incentives are needed beyond ecosystem service delivery. Those threatened species pollinate wild plants, parasite other bees (potentially regulating populations) or are part of larger food webs. Conserving rare bees and other animals should be done without an economical incentive in mind, otherwise, conservationists selling the idea that biodiversity should be conserved because it provide us with services may end up shooting them selfs in the foot by allowing policy makers to protect only the species that are of any immediate use.

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Book: A sting in the tale (D. Goulson)

I don’t even remember why I chose to read the book, but I did. I thought I know quite a lot about bumblebees, and I am familiar with Goulson papers, so I was not expecting much. I was wrong. I learnt a lot about bumblebee biology (e.g. bumblebees has 16 ovaries!). And Goulson explains his research with bumblebees with such a passion that got me hooked for two weeks, devouring all 11 chapters. Things I like include that he explains several failed experiments, and not only the ones that worked, and that he explains stories from which I know the protagonist first hand, so you can perfectly picture Jane Stout, with whom I collaborated, in the middle of Tazmania. But the best part is possibly the feeling you end up with. A feeling that saving bumblebees (and other pollinators) is possible with some effort from the society.

Here in Spain we lack the UK tradition of valuing natural history, but in the other hand we conserve more natural habitats. Today I am encouraged that a generalized love through nature will arrive here sooner than the destruction of the remaining (semi-) natural habitats. I am already thinking on how to encourage bee friendly Spanish gardens.