It was about time. The gradual and unstoppable decline in bee populations has led the US Fish and Wildlife Service to include this insect in its list of endangered species for the first time. As of October 31, seven of the more than 20,000 listed species will have special protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The figures are disturbing. If in 1988 there were a total of five million hives in the US, in 2015 their number had been reduced by half and the situation can be extrapolated to the rest of the planet. The reduction of the habitat of bees, fires, exogenous species, pesticides, as well as the loss of genetic diversity are some of the factors that have contributed to their disappearance.
A disappearance that not only entails economic losses - according to the Xerces Society, one of the associations that has requested the introduction of the insect in the list, “native pollinators provide an essential service in the United States to agriculture for more than 9,000 million dollars annuals ”- but could affect the way humans relate to ecosystems.
"If the bees disappear, the man would have four years left." The phrase, undoubtedly emphatic, has often been raised to make clear the importance of this insect and defend the role of beekeepers, but it is not the work of the physicist Albert Einstein, who has always been attributed as if from an urban legend it will be. The founder of Ecocolmena and vice president of the Fundación Amigos de las Abejas, Jesús Manzano, clarifies in an entry that the slogan was registered for the first time in 1994, during a protest by beekeepers in Belgium. Manzano says that the drop in prices due to imported honey was suffocating the Union of Belgian Beekeepers. His position was clear: if his work disappeared, the bees also and, ultimately, the man. Why? Because more than 75% of European plants need the work of bees to reproduce.
In this sense, it should be remembered that there are more pollinating insects but the truth is that the honey bee "is one of the most efficient," says Manzano, as it is found in almost every environment on the planet, works almost all year round and tells with a very large population. And although the greatest source of food for humans and livestock "comes from rice, corn and wheat", which do not directly need these pollinators, Manzano does wonder what would happen if the cover plants disappeared, "a barrier of biological control and defense of crops that also enriches the soil with nutrients.
The consequences of his disappearance can be dire. Manzano speaks of a change of model in which the consumer would be forced to be a primary producer to survive. In short, "the human being would survive but would be drastically reduced in number."