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The Bee, sentinel of the environment in the Mediterranean

 

 
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The Bee, sentinel of the environment in the Mediterranean
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The Bee, sentinel of the environment in the Mediterranean

Introduction


Insects appeared on Earth well before Men and dinosaurs. They represent the biggest group of animals. Three to four million different types of insects exist, most of them are not yet recorded.

There are almost 2,500 different bee strains. Eighty percent of them are solitary. Yet, only one can produce the honey we consume. It is the most widespread of all, the domestic bee…

Living in colonies and residing in hives, these bees are well taken care of by beekeepers.

Paradoxically, combining the sweetness of the nectar with the sharpness of its sting. The bee's biological capacities, the complexity of its society, as well as its preponderant role in nature are still mysterious nowadays and waits to be uncovered.

Symbol of a traditional world and devoted labor, almost old fashioned, the bee has made a media comeback and gained renewed importance in recent scientific research.

Ever since World War II, the evolution of the environment, notably in agricultural milieus where bees gather nectar, is harmful to its quality of life. We can observe today worrying and recurrent over mortalities in intensive production zones in the whole world.

In every continent, eminent scientists are studying the causes of this preoccupying situation. They are worrying as to the consequences - on our own existence and on biodiversity - of the ever-decreasing number of bee populations. Indeed, the future of bees calls for several questions:

What kind of agriculture for tomorrow?
What kind of environment?
What kind of relationship between man and Nature?...

The bee is a formidable sentinel of the environment; farmers, daily actors in the ecology. And the hive products, the quintessence of nature.

Let us discover together, page after page, its most eloquent aspects.

The bee AT THE HEART OF NATURE

Since the dawn of time, tirelessly gathering pollen from flower to flower and the bee provides a free and irreplaceable pollinating service that actively contribute to developing and preserving biodiversity. Hence, without the bees, and without the beekeepers, our world would not enjoy its present vegetal diversity, part of the human heritage. Our agriculture would have been less productive and our meals less colorful and poorer. Yet, at the image of a degrading environment, the survival of the bee is nowadays preoccupying along with, at the end, a real danger for humanity.

The flower and the bee, a fruitful relationship

If, today, we enjoy an exceptional biodiversity, though fragile and too often threatened, humanity owes it to the insects - namely bees - that highly contribute to preserving biodiversity by favoring notably the durability of flower plants.

The flower needs the bee

Flower plants do need bees to insure their reproduction. The microscopic pollen grains that are produced by the flower male organs must indeed be transported towards the female organ, the stigmata, where they will germinate. The bee's morphology is remarkably adapted to this task. The presence of numerous branchy hairs on their bodies, a long tongue, oral 'grinder-licker' type pieces and a pollen transportation system make them particularly efficient during nectar gathering. Pollens from the same specie are hence transported from flower to flower, reducing auto pollination often harmful for it favors consanguinity.

The bee needs the flower

Bees also need flower. Indeed they retrieve almost exclusively from flowers their vital nutritive elements. Present in some flowers, the nectar-an aqueous solution more or less concentrated with sugar - rich with different elements such as vitamins, pigments and aromas is gathered by all the bees; but only the honey bees can transform it into honey. Consumed by the whole year by the colony, the surplus of nectar is gathered by the beekeepers, knowing that 15 to 20 kilos are vital for the survival of the colony in winter.

In parallel, bees treat themselves with pollen as their unique source of protein. Its composition varies depending on the visited flowers. The pollen is composed of proteins, amino acids, lipids, fat, vitamins, sugar and minerals that are essential to the bees. Without this pollen supply, the queen-bee egg laying would rapidly decrease and the gathering bees would not be able to feed the larvae. A colony consume between 35 to 40kg of pollen per year.

POLLINATION

Previous to the fecundation, and thus to the flower plants' sexualized reproduction, pollination enables the transportation of microscopic pollens grains produced by the plant's male organs towards its female organs. Many vectors enable this encounter such as the wind, the water, some birds or even some rodents and bats. But insects, notably bees, are by far predominant.

Free service!

The presence of domestic bee colonies all over Lebanon is essential for it provides a free pollination service and indispensable to the preservation of biodiversity. Without it, numerous plants would disappear… hence, the role of small beekeepers present all over the country is irreplaceable.

The pollination of cultures
Discovered in the middle of the 18th century, pollination has been studied by Darwin (1809-1882). Largely ignored during most of the 20th century, the use of bees to pollinate cultures widely spread ever since; and their contribution is a major component of numerous modern farms production scheme. An excellent pollination indeed favors a better production and improves the fruits and vegetables gustative quality, conservation and aspect.

Monoculture, beware danger!

Although bees harmlessly survived the different changes of the past forty million years, in less than twenty years their situation largely degraded reaching an alarming level in various parts of the world.

Confronted to a productivist agriculture - that tends to favor monoculture to the detriment of biodiversity and uses important quantities of 'ide' substances (from the Latin caedere, to kill) like insecticides, herbicidal… - the domestic bee survives quite difficultly. Consequently, and with an insufficient number of colonies nowadays and the increasing mortality of bees, some farmers cannot find enough colonies to pollinate their cultures; their productivity is decreasing with a consequent increase of these production prices for the consumer.

Pollination in numbers

Globally, the annual turnover induced by pollinating insects reached 153 billion dollars in 2005. This colossal figure perfectly stresses the indispensable and irreplaceable contribution of bees to the agricultural world.

The Bee, sustainable development champion

The bee can pick from the environing nature all the elements that are necessary to the development of the colony. Flowers supply the bee with the necessary nectar and pollen. Some flowers secrete a sweet substance, the miellat, gathered by the bee. It also recuperates a sort of mastic, the propolis, from trees buds. And the smallest water pond or even the simple morning dew satisfies its water needs. By transforming these different materials, by tirelessly recycling and stocking them for future needs, the bee, a sustainable development champion, maintains the cycle of life.

The two winters of the Mediterranean bee

Confronted to the rigors of the climate at the end of autumn, bees start hibernating all around the Mediterranean. But in the heart of summer, in the hottest zones as in Lebanon, in the south of Greece or in Cyprus, they have to face a sort of 'second hibernation'. Burned by the sun, nature offers indeed no hope for pollen or nectar for the gathering bees. The queen bee stops its egg laying and the population diminishes. Alone, at the guardian bees protect the entrance of the hive… Left to its own self, the colony looks forward to the first rain that will revitalize the vegetation and will enable it to redeploy. The only remaining solution for beekeepers is transhumance towards milder climes.

The bee adapts to extreme milieus

The bees are present today on all the continents of the planet. Over the millennia, resistant to major climatic disturbances, they have managed to adapt to the specific characteristics of the territories where they have successively settled. Apis mellifera, the European bee, has thus colonized Europe and Africa before being scattered all over the world. Its adaptability favors indeed a great biological diversity, which enables it to integrate in many biotopes.

The bees live today as well in the Great Canadian North or in the mountains of the Caucasus, where they are confronted with long, severe winters, as in Africa, where they must face the heat and semi-desert vegetation. In Kuwait, on the edge of the desert, despite the sweltering heat and the weakness of melliferous resources, a few hives produce a very rare honey well appreciated by the ruling family.

The colonies of bees are however placed at the bottom of narrow trenches, which allow them to evade the terrible rays of the sun likely to melt their honey combs…

The hive, an ecological model

The hive, which houses the colony, is a fine example of sustainable development. Air conditioned in winter only in the parts where the worker bees are regrouped, ventilated in the summer using the only flapping of their wings, this space though hot and wet, immersed permanently in darkness, should inevitably encourage the emergence of many diseases and molds. However, it is not the case, quite the contrary.

Isolated from the soil, the hive remains perfectly healthy and hygienic. When needed, the bees eject all debris from the colony, including the larvae or dead bees. These latter are in fact not very frequent, because, most often, they die outside the hive when they die a natural death. The same goes for their own excrement.

Even in winter, when they are confined in the hive during several days or even several weeks, bees do not defile their combs; they wait for a beautiful day to perform their flights of cleanliness.

As to the intruder… If a mouse penetrates inside the hive, bees sting it lethally and, as they cannot transport it outside the hive, they 'embalm' it in coatings of propolis in order to stop its putrefaction… In parallel with this waste management, bees must ensure to keep the hive in good condition; they coat the walls with propolis for protection and to obstruct cracks.

They also dehumidify the honey, until they obtain a satisfactory and regular humidity level; they nourish the young larvae according to the evolution of their growth, build the combs by multiplying the cells to the identical while respecting the sides to the thousandth of a millimeter…

Tireless workers, they work day and night to preserve the balance of their residence thanks to a quite sophisticated guidance, communication and management system that allows them to accomplish, even if deprived of light, the daily tasks necessary to the survival of the colony.

At the end of this journey, one question remains essential

Our future on this planet depends on the resolution in the coming decades of several essential issues such as the climate change, the management of food resources, energy, water…

Discreet and yet unavoidable, the bee is one of the major symbols of this challenge.

And if men, though aware of the danger, do not manage quickly to reorient their agricultural and environmental policy to allow the bee and the wild pollinators to recover a quality of life, the future of our next generations will be obscured… irreversibly.

Then let us act… and remain optimistic.

Copyright BankMed
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