As our bee populations dwindle, could we also be facing down the prospect of a honey shortage?
Entomologist May Berenbaum joined us today to take our questions about bee behavior and disappearances, including a question about what we might expect to happen to our stores of honey as bee populations continue to falter:
The short answer is that the vast majority of America's bees are used for pollination rather than honey production. The other part of the answer is that we import a lot of honey. China does lead the world in honey exports but figuring out what is Chinese honey is complicated by "honey laundering", which includes, among other things, trans-shipping Chinese honey through other countries (some of which have no commercial apiculture enterprise) to avoid import duties, and massive adulteration with, among other things, high fructose corn syrup. There have been some high-profile arrests and convictions connected t0 honey laundering of late...
But, while our stores of honey may not be much depleted from the pollinator crisis, plants, particularly those that have evolved very specified pollinator-to-plant relationships, may have much more trouble:
Plant species that are most at risk of extinction are those that have very specialized relationships with particular pollinator species. Many, if not most, flowering plants that depend on insects can be pollinated by a diversity of species, so there's some redundancy built into most systems. That said, there are numerous plant species that depend on a very restricted number of partners and these are at risk. For example, there's a western orchid, Spiranthese diluvialis, that's endangered and conservation plans must include conservation of its bumble bee pollinators. In Hawaii, there's at least one endangered lobeliad species that depends entirely on a hawk moth that may be extinct on some of the islands; conservation efforts depend on hand-pollination by humans (and these plants grow on cliffsides and are NOT easy to get to!)
Image: Peter Shanks