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This article is written by Anisha Bhandari pursuing B.A. L.L.B.(Hons.) from Institute of Law, Nirma University. This article discusses evolution and the need to protect bees which will help in the contribution in the environment. 

Introduction

Bees are both ecologically and economically important for the ecosystem service role they play as pollinators. The documented global decline in bees has led to the creation of a global policy framework for pollinators, primarily through the International Pollinator Initiative within the Convention on Biological Diversity. Regional Pollinator initiatives are now in place, along with regional and national conservation legislation, which may have an impact on the conservation of bees. The establishment of Regional Red Lists of bees, under the guidance of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, along with conservation priority lists, offers a further mechanism for streamlining bees into regional, national or sub-national conservation policies and practices. These structures, if properly used, can form a coordinated and effective policy framework on which conservation action can be based.

Evolution

The predecessors of the bees were wasps in the Crabronidae family, which were predators of other insects. The transition from insect predators to pollen may have arisen from the ingestion of prey insects that were flower tourists and partially covered with pollen when feeding to wasp larvae. The same genetic situation could have happened within the vespoid wasps, where the pollen wasps developed from predatory ancestors. Until recently, the oldest non-compression bee fossil was found in New Jersey amber, Cretotrigona Prisca of Cretaceous age, a corbicular bee. The bee fossil from the Early Cretaceous (~100 mia), Melittosphex burmensis, is considered to be an “extinct lineage of pollen-collecting Apoidea’s sister to modern bees.” Derived features of its anatomy (apomorphic) specifically position it among the bees, however, it preserves two unmodified ancestral features (plesiomorphic) of the legs (two mid-tibial spurs and a slender hind basitarsus) indicating its transitional role. There was still substantial variation in the Eocene (~45 mya) amongst the eusocial bee lineages.

Why is there a need to protect bees? 

The bee population has been dying at an alarming rate in the United States and around the world for more than a decade. Bee colonies have been dying at an average rate of 29 percent every year since 2006. Their important role in our ecosystem makes it mandatory to save bees. 

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, 78% to 94% of the world’s flowers and seed-producing plants rely on bees and other animal pollinators to survive. The decline in the bee population has dire consequences for the ecosystem. In addition to providing food for other species, pollination allows for conditions for flower development, producing habitats for animals. Bees collect pollen and nectar for food supplies and move pollen from the male flower to the female receptor, thus fertilizing the plants. Human diets may have negatively impacted the environment without pollinators. We will no longer have the profusion of fruits, nuts, and vegetables that differentiate our meals, not to mention the lack of nutritious eating. These are the crops that will be particularly impacted by the absence of honey bees.

People are aware of the demise of the population of bees. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the bumblebee as endangered in 2017, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to be granted federal protection. The condition of the bees represents the latest epidemic of animal and plant destruction, the worst since the Prehistoric period. There is a significant opportunity to save bees. Increased yields on honey bees — the most important pollinator of any bee species — add $15 billion to the American economy every year.

Greenpeace and other organizations are promoting organic farming as a viable alternative to current farming practices that are geared towards less diverse, larger farms. This is a strategy that incorporates practices and values of organic farming which stresses the development of nutritious food while preserving land, water, and wildlife; decreases the usage of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and preserves natural ecological structures.

Characteristics of Bees 

  • A pair of large eyes that cover a large part of the surface of the head. Under and above these three tiny, clear eyes (ocelli) provide details on the strength of the sun.
  • The antennas typically have 13 segments in males and 12 segments in females and are a group with the elbow portion in the way. They contain a vast number of sense organs that can detect touch (mechanoreceptors), scent and taste, and tiny, hair-like mechanoreceptors that can detect air movement to “hear” sounds.
  • The mouthpieces are adapted for chewing and sucking by having both a pair of mandibles and a long proboscis for sucking nectar.
  • The thorax has three segments, each with a pair of sturdy legs and two segments of a pair of membranous wings. The front legs of the corbiculate bees hold antennae-cleaning combs, and in other cases, the hind legs bring pollen bags, flattened parts of incurving hairs to protect the pollen gathered. The wings are synchronized in flight, and the slightly smaller hind wings are connected to the forewings by a row of hooks along their margins, which are connected to the forewing groove.
  • The abdomen has nine segments, the hindmost three of which are shaped into the sting.

Benefits 

Pollination

From a young age, we learn that bees carry pollen from plant to plant and flower to flower in a process called pollination. In fact, bees are responsible for pollinating almost 85 per cent of all food crops for humans, as well as numerous crops that grow food fed to cattle. Without the honeybee, there would be a serious lack of food options, and research has been conducted that predicts environmental collapse should the honeybee no longer exist.

Crops 

Honeybees flow from flower to flower-spread pollen from one plant to another. Any of the pollen is gathered on the hairy legs of the worker and then given to the young bees for sustenance. The food is in the form of pollen used by bees, which is converted into energy, allowing the bee to fly for extended periods to gather and distribute pollen. Owing to the efforts of the bees, the crops flourish and grow berries, fruits, bulbs, nuts, seeds, beans, and much more.

Environment 

Simply stated, without workers, there will be no way for several plants to survive and die out. Bees have a significant role to perform in the life cycle of certain plants and flowers. Interestingly, there are dozens of species of solitary bees that have evolved to pollinate a single type of plant and coexist in conjunction with that plant’s lifetime. Without the devotion of that particular species to that plant, the plant would cease to reproduce and become extinct.

Honey 

Honeybees have the distinction of being the only insect that produces food eaten by humans. Honey is natural and has a long list of health benefits because of its antibacterial properties. Generated without pesticides and human intervention, honey is a safer alternative to the high-fructose corn syrup that has dominated candy and refined products in recent years.

Food

As a pure food item, honey can be drizzled over dessert, added to tea instead of sugar, or used in a baking recipe. However, it is not a modern development to eat honey. Civilizations have been drinking and utilizing honey for medical purposes for decades. Egyptian hieroglyphs depict the harvesting of honey from the hive and paintings throughout the ages.

Anti-Bacterial Components

It is important to point out that honey is not a cure-all, but that it has certain benefits in combating certain illnesses or in alleviating the symptoms of certain illnesses. Honey and beeswax contain a by-product called anti-bacterial agent propolis. This agent can help combat bacteria and inflammation, which is especially helpful in the treatment of wounds. Honey has also been reported to soothe sore throats induced by the common cold outside to prevent this, and do not harm live bees.

Threats to Bees

Usage of Pesticides 

Exposure to many pesticides and herbicides can either kill the bees directly or severely undermine the health of the bee colony. Owing to the adverse effects of such chemicals on bees, the European Union has outlawed bee-harming chemicals, and there is growing support around the globe for other countries to introduce similar regulations.

Climate Change 

Multiple factors involving climate change affect bees, including changes in vegetation and rising temperatures, which destroy or create habitat. Inhospitable habitats for a variety of species of bees. Spring flowers, for example, bloomed early in the season, significantly decreasing the likelihood of the bee to feed on pollen.

Loss of Habitat

Changes in land use, ecosystem degradation and depletion of biodiversity generate a scarcity of foraging resources for bees. With industrialization on the rise, natural forest regions are being turned into roads and buildings. This drives the bees away from their homes, triggering behavioural shifts when it comes to foraging and mating.

Shift 

Monoculture farming, or planting only one crop in a large area, contributes to the loss of plant biodiversity. Without many plants to pollinate or feed on, bees are hampered in their efforts to provide for their colony and the environment as a whole.

Some prevalent laws 

Federal authorities have also started to take measures to ensure that honey bees are given the attention and protection they deserve. On 20 June 2014, President Barack Obama released a Presidential Memorandum on the development of a Federal Policy to Promote the Protection of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators (hereinafter the Memorandum) to the heads of administrative departments and agencies, in particular, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the EPA. He recognized that “given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is important to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to compensate pollinator losses and help restore healthy populations. The Memorandum formed a Pollinator Health Task Force (hereinafter the Task Force) with a mandate to create a Regional Pollinator Health Plan (hereinafter the Plan) that will involve specific goals, benchmarks, and indicators for assessing progress. The Policy was initiated on 19 May 2015 and centred on four main concerns related to pollinator safety:

  • Undertaking work to identify, reduce and rebound from pollinator losses;
  • Enhancing public awareness and outreach programs; 
  • Strengthening pollinator habitat; 
  • Establishing public-private relationships through both of these initiatives.

With the creation of the Task Force and the development of the Plan, The federal government continued to inch its way through the stranglehold between towns and states.

In countries with bigger, coordinated communities of beekeepers and farmers involved, such as California, there has been a law for decades to defend honey bee colonies from threats like pesticides. A version of California’s current status to preserve bees has been in the books since 1985, well before neonicotinoids or CCD became a consideration in their decision-making phase. The Statute provides for regulatory measures such as requiring farmers and others to notify beekeepers of when, how, and the amount of pesticide to be used, the creation of ‘Citrus/Bee Protection Areas’ which will not allow pesticides to be applied during the specific seasons and times of the day when bees are most active and which require a label to be affixed to products that are knocked. A few months before President Obama issued a memorandum, the City Council of Eugene, Oregon, unanimously adopted a resolution prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids on public land. In doing so, Eugene was the first U.S. city to prohibit the usage of neonicotinoids in any capacity. This measure inspired a variety of communities in the Northwest, including Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, to do the same. 

In August 2016, Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture published a comprehensive analysis of the state’s usage of neonicotinoids. In it, the Department introduced eight steps to ensure that the usage of neonicotinoids would not affect pollinators. These proposals go hand in hand with similar interventions by Canadian and Western European countries on the use of neonicotinoids, which generally allow for limited use of neonicotinoids, with strict penalties for infringements of regulations. 

After seeing a decline of more than 61% of their state bee colonies the Maryland legislature and governor passed from 2014 to 2015 Maryland Protection of the pollinator Act. The Act calls for a moratorium on the usage of neonicotinoids beginning in 2018. The prohibition covers all forms of neonicotinoid and only prohibits private individuals from the usage of neonicotinoid as a pesticide. The Law also provides a prohibition on drug outlets offering neonicotinoid-containing items. Violators of this Act will be subject to a fine of $250.89. It is a good start in helping honey bees. 

The piecemeal legislation of municipalities and states to date provides for the benefits of regulating the use of neonicotinoids for honey bees in certain states, although they do not, collectively, address the overall concern for the health of honey bees. Above all, bees may not see boundaries, so colonies around national borders may tend to suffer decreases in productivity and in the safety of the colony. States and counties have the power to monitor just what occurs within their boundaries. Absent strict federal controls, the overall survival of this nation’s honey bees will begin to decrease. 

Conclusion

Bees are insects that are closely linked to wasps and ants, recognized for their function in pollination and, in the case of the best-known bee genus, western honey bee, for the development of honey. Bees rely on nectar and pollen, the former mainly as an energy supply and the latter mainly for proteins and other nutrients. Part of the pollen is used as fodder for their larvae. Bee predators include birds such as bee-eaters; insect predators include bee-wolves and dragonflies. Bee pollination is significant both ecologically and economically, and the reduction of wild bees has increased the pollination importance of commercially operated honey bee hives. Human apiculture or beekeeping has been studied for centuries, at least since ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. Bees have appeared in mythology and folklore, throughout all phases of art and literature, from ancient times to the present, though mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, where apiculture is much more common.


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