Common Benefits of Bee Pollination

It is no exaggeration that the sheer abundance, high quality, and variety of food enjoyed today in much of the developed world – a bounty unmatched by any other period in history – derives in no small measure from bee pollination. The western honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) is arguably the most well-known bee pollinator of crops. Its native range is large, extending from northern Europe, through the Middle East, and all of verdant Africa. Beginning in the 17th century, European colonists began actively spreading this bee throughout much of the world. In the ensuing centuries A. mellifera has proven itself highly adaptable to a broad range of climatic conditions. Its adaptability, its tolerance of human management, and its honey-making habit have secured its place as humanity’s favourite bee. Large feral populations of honey bees became the norm in much of the world, populations that contributed significantly to crop pollination, with or without the knowledge or appreciation of the farmer. Today, many countries have large and sophisticated bee-keeping industries dedicated to the production of honey, other hive products, and pollination services

Five important species of honey bees are as follows.

  1. The rock bee, Apis dorsata (Apidae).
  2. The Indian hive bee, Apis cerana indica (Apidae).
  3. The little bee, Apis florea (Apidae).
  4. The European or Italian bee, Apis mellifera (Apidae).
  5. Dammer bee or stingless bee, Melipona irridipennis (Meliporidae).

The important features of these species are given below.

Rock bee (Apis dorsata)
They are giant bees found all over India in sub-mountainous regions up to an altitude of 2700 m. They construct single comb in open about 6 feet long and 3 feet deep .They shift the place of the colony often. Rock bees are ferocious and difficult to rear. They produce about 36 Kg honey per comb per year. These bees are the largest among the bees described.

Little bee (Apis florea)
They build single vertical combs. They also construct comb in open of the size of palm in branches of bushes, hedges, buildings, caves, empty cases etc. They produce about half a kilo of honey per year per hive. They are not rearable as they frequently change their place. The size of the bees is smallest among four Apis species described and smaller than Indian bee. They distribute only in plains and not in hills above 450 MSL.

Indian hive bee / Asian bee (Apis cerana indica)
They are the domesticated species, which construct multiple parallel combs with an average honey yield of 6-8 kg per colony per year. These bees are larger thanApis florae but smaller than Apis mellifera. They are more prone to swarming and absconding. They are native of India/Asia.

European bee / Italian bee (Apis mellifera)
They are also similar in habits to Indian bees, which build parallel combs. They are bigger than all other honeybees except Apis dorsata. The average production per colony is 25-40 kg. They have been imported from European countries (Italy). They are less prone to swarming and absconding.

Dammer Bee
Besides true honey bees, two species of stingless or dammer bees, viz. Melipona and Trigona occur in our country in abundance. These bees are much smaller than the true honey bees and build irregular combs of wax and resinous substances in crevices and hollow tree trunks. The stingless bees have the importance in the pollination of various food crops. They bite their enemies or intruders. It can be domesticated. But the honey yield per hive per year is only 100 gms.

Bee-keeping is a viable agricultural pursuit in developing countries, but the bee-keeping industries in many developed countries have contracted. World honey prices have been depressed the last few decades owing in part to the availability of other cheaper sweeteners. Parasitic varroa mites (Varroa sp.) and tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi) have spread from their native ranges and killed untold thousands of managed honey bee colonies and virtually eliminated feral populations in places.

One result of these hardships has been a renewed interest in the use of bumble bees and solitary bees as commercial pollinators. Only a few species of such alternative pollinators have been successfully cultured, so there is an emphasis on conserving their natural populations. There is great need for research in the conservation, culture, and use of these bees for pollination. Naturally-occurring bee populations are not always dependable for commercial pollination needs, owing to their uneven distribution or loss of their natural habitats and food plants. Rearing and managing methods for some non-honey bees are finely worked out and practical, but for others the rearing methods are poorly developed or protected as proprietary secrets.

One of our aims in this section of website is to promote an appreciation of all available bee pollinators. Pollinating bees, whether managed or naturally-occurring, are a valuable and limited resource. In this area of website, we concentrate on managing and conserving bees to optimize crop pollination. We cover honey bees, other managed bee species, and wild non-managed species. Each group has assets and liabilities from a plant grower’s point of view, but each deserves our best efforts to maintain its populations through good management or conservation.

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