Bees as an indicator of how the environment is doing

Several recent studies and research have shown that bees are excellent environmental bioindicators. What does this mean? They are able to let us know how polluted the environment in which we live is, mainly thanks to small residues that can be found on their bodies, which being covered with a sort of fur are able to trap particles of substances in the air and in the flowers. As a primary consequence of such pollution there is the disappearance of various animal species but in particular bees, which are fundamental to our food system and environment.

The high mortality rate of bees that we are seeing in recent years is the first consequence of the massive use of pesticides; the high presence of these chemicals in the air causes bees when they leave the hive to unintentionally trap residues of these substances in their bodies: once they return to the hive, they cause damage to the laid larvae and the queen itself. 

The second indicator is the presence in the bees’ fur of pesticide residues and other pollutants (heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, selenium, and the radionuclides). These are found both in the air and in plants; 75% of them are pollinated by bees and other pollinating insects, whose health therefore is at risk (and, consequently, also the entire food chain). 



But why exactly are bees perfect as bioindicators? 

They have hair-covered bodies, and thanks to this, environmental microparticles attach to their bodies, bringing back external materials present in the environment that allow them to understand the main causes of high mortality within a hive; in addition, they are particularly sensitive to all substances in the air, especially during flowering, and in the presence of pollutants they either abandon the nest and look for another hive or die; they also reproduce very quickly and have a relatively short life span, which allows for recirculation within the hive and consequently an up-to-date analysis of the substances present. Finally, they have a wide flight range and high mobility, and this allows them to monitor a wide area. 

Regarding the fact that bees are good “ecological sentinels” we can say that a bee, in addition to pollinating plants and flowers seeks nourishment, so during a flight it touches all environmental sites (the soil, water, flora and vegetation). 

As mentioned earlier, the hair-covered body is the main feature by which we can tell what substances bees come into contact with, but in addition to this, hive products (especially honey) can also be good environmental indicators; in fact, analysis of honey produced can help in the study of chemicals in the air. In some studies, honey from hives located near farms (with the presence of lead inside) and near agricultural areas (with the presence of manganese) is analyzed. 

For all these reasons, bees and their products are crucial both for the food chain and thus human survival, but also for the preservation of the environment, as they are perfect bioindicators in order to know how polluted our planet is and to study techniques to succeed in safeguarding the bee species and humankind.

Beeing relies on university partners and specialised laboratories to carry out the analyses and return important environmental information to serve the local community and citizens.

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