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Check out American Spring Live on PBS (http://pbs.org/americanspringlive) and Facebook (http://facebook.com/pbsnature) to celebrate the start of spring.

You’ve probably heard about how the extinction of honeybees will lead to some sort of bee-pocalypse doomsday scenario for humanity. But what would actually happen if all the honeybees went extinct?

Hosted by: Stefan Chin

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Image Credit:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_Head.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bees_Collecting_Pollen_2004-08-14.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osmia_lignaria,_M,_Face,_VA,_Virginia_Beach_City_2014-04-13-15.42.51_ZS_PMax_(14125603737).jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3-Sancassania_boharti_on_Nomia_melanderi_BMOC_96-0916-059.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Lone_Pollinator.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alfalfa_Leafcutter_Bee_-_Megachile_rotundata%3F,_Meadowood_Farm_SRMA,_Mason_Neck,_Virginia.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bumblebee_on_Lavender_Blossom.JPG
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apis_mellifera_-_Honeybee_02.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osmia_lignaria_P1380192a.jpg

https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/bee-gm1043506548-279316258
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/aged-style-world-map-paper-texture-background-gm175482512-20937802
Thanks to WNET’s Nature for supporting this episode.

Check out American Spring Live on PBS and Facebook to celebrate the start of spring! [♪ INTRO]. Albert Einstein once said, “If the bees disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” And that’s terrifying.

I mean, Albert Einstein probably didn’t say that, but still, the idea is terrifying. And even if you haven’t heard that particular quote, you’ve probably heard how the death of honeybees will lead to some doomsday scenario. Like, no honeybees will mean global starvation because 70 percent of our crops depend on them.

Or, that all the world’s flowers will vanish and the planet will become a colorless globe of death and despair. Is it true? Not really.

Well, maybe a little. Mostly, trying to predict what will happen if honeybees go extinct reveals just how much we need to care for other insects. Let’s start with that 70 percent of all crops number, since that’s the one we hear the most.

It seems to be a mistaken extrapolation. It’s true that roughly 70% of flowering plant species are biotically pollinated, which means they need some sort of third party creature to do the pollinating for them. But that includes only around 35% of the world’s food crops.

Many of the world’s staples—like corn, wheat, and rice, for example—are wind pollinated, while others—like tomatoes, lettuce, and beans—are self-pollinated. So tortillas, fried rice, french bread, and pasta would be fine in the advent of a bee-pocalypse. But that leaves a bunch of plants that do require pollinators that we might worry about.

Turns out that of the hundred or so crop species that dominate human diets around the globe, only 13 need pollinators, though another 30 are highly dependent on them. But, just because plants are pollinated by animals doesn’t mean that they need honeybees specifically. The honeybee is just one of 20,000 or so species of bee.

And bees aren’t the only pollinators, either. In fact there are close to 200,000 different species worldwide that act as pollinators, which include butterflies, flies, moths, beetles, birds, and even mammals, like bats. So… what would actually happen if honeybees went extinct?

Well, there would be some changes. You see, the honeybee is the main human-managed pollinator. We’ve grown to rely on it because it’s easy for us to house, transport, and control.

But it’s not native to most of the places that depend on it now. Honeybees probably originated in Asia around 300,000 years ago. From there, they spread throughout Africa and Europe—mostly by human hands—arriving in North America sometime in the 17th century.

You could even think of them as an invasive species in some areas, because while honeybees are good for agriculture, they’re not necessarily good ecologically. They sometimes outcompete native bees, which puts those other species at risk. They can also spread diseases to native bee populations, and in some places, honeybees are the sole pollinator of invasive weeds, helping ensure those invaders stick around where they aren’t wanted.

If honeybees disappeared tomorrow, some crops would be just fine. Most US alfalfa, for example, is now pollinated by a solitary leaf-cutter bee. And when researchers at the Cornell University Ithaca apple orchard recently ditched their honeybee hives, they found they still got a full crop of apples thanks to native, wild bees.

Other experiments have also suggested wild bees could pollinate crops in the absence of honeybees. In Florida, bumblebees could replace honeybees on blueberry farms. The solitary blue orchard bee, which occurs throughout most of the United States and even as far north as Canada, could pollinate peaches, cherries, and almonds.

And the alkali bee—another solitary species that’s native to the western and southwestern. United States—could pollinate onions. As a bonus, these wild bees aren’t vulnerable to colony collapse disorder.

So, in many cases, if honeybees disappeared, it’s likely other species could step up. But, that doesn’t mean we can stop worrying about the honeybee. Without honeybees, some food would become more expensive, because for many crops, honeybees are still the most important pollinators.

Coffee, for example, doesn’t need honeybees. But their presence can significantly boost yield. Higher yield means less expensive coffee.

There are also a handful of fruit, seed, and nut crops that would have much lower yields without honeybees. For instance, macadamia nut trees are up to 10 times more productive when visited by honeybees. And it’s not like we could just go, “Well, the honeybees are gone now, so let’s move in the bumblebees.” There would be a lot of logistical hurdles to get over.

For a start, there’s concern that native bees could be in trouble, too, because they’re also vulnerable to things like climate change and pesticides. So we have to be just as proactive about protecting them as we’re trying to be about protecting the honeybee. And there are other challenges, too.

For example, it’s more difficult and expensive to maintain commercial bumblebee hives. In part, that’s because bumblebees don’t make honey, and honey sales are important for offsetting the expense of maintaining a hive. And bumblebee colonies are smaller than honeybee colonies — they average around 200 to 400 bees, while honeybee colonies can have as many as 50,000 individuals.

But more to the point, the average bumblebee colony only lasts 3 to 5 months, while honeybee hives can last basically indefinitely, given the right conditions. Other native bees present challenges, too. Solitary bees like the blue orchard bee don’t multiply as rapidly as honeybees do.

And farmers would have to provide nesting sites for them, which is a lot more labor intensive than simply renting a few hives. Native bees also don’t handle transport as well as honeybees do, so you can’t just shuttle them around to the places they’re needed. And all the usual problems with introducing non-native species would still apply.

So, the good news is that there’s no doomsday scenario to losing honeybees. But perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to lessen our dependence on them anyway. Supporting biodiversity and native species is never a bad thing, and there’s even some evidence that crops benefit from having a variety of pollinators.

For example, recent research in blueberry fields has shown that pollinator diversity leads to fatter blueberries. And who doesn’t want that? The real issue is that even without colony collapse disorder, native bees and other pollinators are struggling.

So maybe we should worry a little less about honeybees, and a little more about all the other species that buzz around us. You may notice a few more bees around you once spring has sprung. And bees aren’t the only ones suddenly abuzz with activity.

Spring is nature’s biggest party. So come join the party and witness some of the most amazing spring phenomena from the natural world, including animal births, migrations, bears coming out of hibernation, and bees pollinating on

Nature: American Spring LIVE. With

Nature: American Spring LIVE, award-winning news anchor Juju Chang will guide you to locations across country so you can get a front row seat to the start of the season. You’ll join scientists in the field as they make real-time observations and discoveries about how longer days and warming temperatures trigger big changes in animals and plants. And you can get in on the action, too. The goal of

Nature: American Spring LIVE is to inspire people to go outside and get involved with science because everyone can make a difference. So, in addition to watching spring time spectacles unfold, you can help researchers by becoming a citizen scientist in pursuit of critical data on the science of Spring. Like, you can Track a Lilac and tell scientists whether lilacs in your area are blooming—and by doing so, you’ll be contributing to an ongoing study that’s lasted more than 60 years! And that’s just one of six projects associated with the event.

Nature: American Spring LIVE is a three-night multiplatform event airing Monday, April 29 (i.e. TONIGHT) to Wednesday, May 1 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS and Facebook. And if you missed the broadcast, head over to facebook.com/pbsnature to watch all three episodes. [♪ OUTRO].