Losing bees will sting more than just our taste for honey

Changing wildlife: this article is part of a series looking at how key species such as bees, insects and fish respond to environmental change, and what this means for the rest of the planet.

We may lose a lot more than honey if bees are unable to cope with the changing climate and increasing demand for agricultural land.

Your morning coffee might be a thing of the past if bees disappear, and if coffee isn’t your thing, you undoubtedly eat many of the fruit and vegetables (and chocolate) that rely on bee pollination for survival.


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In fact, the world’s 25,000 bee species are responsible for pollinating a third of the food humans eat. If we lose bees, then we risk the food security of ourselves, and all the other animals that depend on bee-pollinated crops for survival.

While European (managed) honey bees steal the limelight, other wild (non-honey) bees are just as important for pollinating crops and will also be impacted by climate change. Data from all over the globe suggest that both groups are in decline, but since we do not have a global integrated and complete monitoring system of bee populations, these data do not describe the full extent of the problem.

So how well equipped are bees to survive a warming climate, and is there anything we can do to help?

Bees and plants: it’s a long-term relationship

Bees and flowering plants share a long evolutionary relationship and depend on each other for survival. Plants provide bees with food and habitat, while the bees feeding on pollen and nectar provide the plants with pollination.

To orchestrate this beautiful exchange, plants and bees rely on environmental cues (such as temperature) to coordinate their seasonal activity. However, climate change can disrupt these relationships so that bee activity periods will no longer time with flowering periods. This will cause the bees to lose a food source and plants that fail to fruit, potentially leading to extinctions of both.