Can You Put a Price On Bees? Scientists Have, and it’s Staggering

What are bees worth to our economy? A group of researchers have attempted to do the math, and the result shows exactly why we need to protect our pollinating bees but also why we can’t rely on economic worth alone to make our arguments for saving threatened species.

It may sound slightly abhorrent to put a price on a living creature–and, to an extent, it is. But calculating the monetary worth of wildlife and, in particular, their place in the overall economy has become a useful way for researchers to communicate to governments and even businesses that they need to take a closer look at preventing species die-out. When it comes to bees however, researchers have found an interesting fact that they say shows the worth and the shortcomings of this approach.

Publishing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers detail how they set about this task by following data from nearly 74,000 bees across 780 bee species that was collected as part of over 90 research projects that are investigating the way bees pollinate and interact with crop fields.

What they found was that the bulk of pollination was actually done by just two percent of bee species in the study, and that they contributed up to around 80 percent of the overall pollinating activity.

In total, the researchers calculated that for agricultural security as well as the central task of pollinating crops, wild bees may be worth as much as $3,250 per hectare per year. As the Guardian points out, that’s more than managed honeybee colonies which still account for an impressive but lower $2,913 a hectare.

As the researchers point out, the figure is so attractive that we can’t help but highlight it, but it throws up an important topic: talking purely in terms of economic worth, there appears little reason to preserve the other bee species, and currently many governments focus only on the primary pollinators as part of their environment management strategy.

However, researchers say that is a mistake. Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading, which was involved in this study, is quoted as saying that it would be an error to think that we can just invest in certain bee populations and that protecting other species doesn’t matter: “It is critical to protect a wide range of bees and other insects now so that [...] we can call on the pollinating species which are best suited to the task. We can’t just rely on our current starting line-up of pollinators. We need a large and diverse group of species on the substitutes’ bench, ready to join the game as soon as they are needed, if we are to ensure food production remains stable.”

The researchers in the above study say that their work demonstrates that when we talk about conservation, we need to look at not just the short term benefits that species bring but the long term need to protect diversity. As such, we need to target our conservation efforts not just at the species that are most common or those we deem most useful right now, but also those that might appear less productive but are no less important for long term agricultural security.

This research comes at a time when the UK’s Conservative government, which as part of the previous coalition government proved hostile to many environmental policies, is considering whether to give its backing to farmers who want to start using neonicotinoids again, a substance that until relatively recently was part of many insecticides. It has been identified as one of the reasons behind colony collapse disorder and other problems that wild bees have faced in recent years that have seen bee numbers fall, sometimes dramatically, across the globe, and so was banned by the Europe. 

The UK government’s stance has previously been that the European wide ban is not backed by overly convincing science despite a consensus emerging that insecticides are at least playing a part in bee die-off, and now environmental campaigners are concerned that the Conservative government may snub what science actually shows and instead cave to farmers and the big agricultural businesses that have previously offered to bring business to the UK.

As the above research shows though, this would be incredibly short-sighted and could pose a real risk to agricultural security.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

69 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I really miss the bees. Sometimes I see some and sometimes not.

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Veerle D.
Veerle D2 years ago

Looking for a book on bees, I stumbled on this article :-). I was on holiday at the time of this article which explains why I didn't see it before. Thanks!

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

Without bees there will be very much fewer creatures living on Earth.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

noted

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Anita Merrigan
Anita Merrigan2 years ago

Looks like humans in western industrialized countries are not going to stop electing the immoral, conservative government leaders who value the money over everything until food and water sources in those countries are severely compromised.

It's a shame that most humans are unwilling to engage in self-education and independent thought, for these things are required for each individual to have the "awakening" necessary to see the bigger picture.

The bigger picture shows that humans are rapidly killing their biosphere, and thus themselves, in order to stuff the pockets of a few. When will these injustices end?

Humans, particularly those in poor countries where the effects of carbon pollution are the greatest, are going to revolt...soon, and it's not going to be pretty. It's what you can expect in a capitalistic, oligarchic government structure that has taken things too far.

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Diana T.
Diana T2 years ago

Bees are invaluable&Always will be;we can't exist w/o them.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Caroline Asgard
Caroline Asgard2 years ago

It's good that people finally acknowledge this

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle2 years ago

We need our bees and their very necessary job in pollinating our plants.

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