Pollination – the delicate balance between bees and flowers | Jennifer Leavey | TEDxGeorgiaTechSalon


Translator: Peter van de Ven
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’m really excited to be here today to talk to you about one
of my favorite things in the world, which is bees, of course, bees. I wish I had some kind of exciting story
from my childhood to explain what drove me
to become a beekeeper, but I never had
a grandparent who kept bees and took me into
their beautiful apiary on sunny days. I never had a scary experience
with being stung a bunch of times, and I’m not afraid of insects. I actually started keeping bees because I found that it would be
a convenient model for studying science. So, whether you are learning chemistry, like acid-base chemistry or physics, maybe you’re studying
velocity or momentum in your lab, or maybe you’re studying
biology and genetics, or differential equations,
or databases, or whatever, you can study bees through that lens, and that’s what drove me
to start studying bees. Bees are fascinating creatures. If you take a look
at this picture behind me, you see one of the most iconic images
related to bees, right? You see a picture of a bee on a flower. And this is something that everyone
learns about in elementary school: the role of bees as pollinators. So, you’ve all seen this occur
before in your life, and you’ve learned
about what pollination was before in your life, but I’d like to challenge you to look a little bit deeper
at what’s going on in this image, because this is the image
that I’m very concerned that in the future
is going to be disrupted, with huge ramifications for people
and life on Earth in general. So let’s look at this image. We have a picture of a beautiful honey bee sitting on a flower, and this bee is visiting the flower because she wants to collect
nectar and pollen as food. That’s a pretty straightforward idea:
she’s foraging for food. And because honey bees are social insects, she’s not going to eat this food herself, she’s in fact going to return to her hive, and she’s going to use these nutrients, the carbohydrates in the nectar and the lipids and proteins
that she finds in the pollen, and she’s going to use that
to feed her sisters, basically. Bees divide up labor; they’re social insects
and they divide up the work of the hive. Not all bees are foragers,
but all foragers are female – that’s just a little bit of trivia. So, here she is on this flower,
collecting nectar, collecting pollen, and in the process,
she’s doing other things, right? The flower is not producing
nectar for its own sake, it’s producing nectar specifically
to attract this insect here, and the reason why the plant
needs a bee to visit its flowers is because plants are very bad
at having sex with each other. (Laughter) Pollination is in fact the root
for sexual reproduction for plants. Plants can’t move,
they’re anchored into the ground. So, they need bees
to do the dirty work for them. This bee has visited another flower
before she visited this flower, and she collected pollen, which is basically
the equivalent of plant sperm, and she brought with that pollen half of the genes that that tree had
in the form of pollen. She’s going to bring those genes, which will then mix
with the 50% of this tree’s genes to form an offspring. So, very important things happening here: we have the future reproduction
of the bee at stake, in the form of the food
that she’s collecting; and you have the future
reproduction of this tree at stake, in the form of the fertilization event
that is facilitated by the bee. When that fertilization event occurs,
the flower will fall off, and we see a seed form, and oftentimes,
that seed will be surrounded by some kind of delicious flesh
that humans enjoy. That was an apple blossom
that we saw before, here we have a delicious apple tree. This is significant
because animal-pollinated crops are responsible for at least
one in three bites of food that we eat. The situation is not entirely rosy. The United Nations
released a report last year summarizing some of the threats
that exist to bees, and as a result, the threats
that exist to our food supply. So, if you can imagine a world
without apples, without zucchini, without cherries, without cucumbers, that’s the world that we would live in,
in the absence of animal pollinators. This UN report had
a lot of alarming statistics. So, 75% of the world’s food crops are pollination-dependent. This is a huge economic impact. We have over 500 billion dollars of food that is produced every year that is dependent upon animal pollination. The honey industry itself
is a big industry with 1.5 million tons of honey
produced in every year. We think a lot about honeybees
when we think about pollination, and in fact, they are responsible for a lot of the pollination
of the food crops in this country. Some food crops, such as
the almond crop in Northern California, is dependent on the presence
of migratory honey bee keepers bringing their hives
to the orchard each year in order to actually
set seed and produce fruit; there are not enough
native bees to do the job. There are native bees in North America. Honey bees, or Apis mellifera,
is not a native species here; it was brought with the European settlers. There are 4,000 species of native bees
present in North America, though, and these are some of them. They range from very small iridescent
blue sweat bees and orchid bees, to big fuzzy bumblebees,
to bees that look like wasps. They come in a variety
of shapes and sizes. Some are generalists, and will pollinate
a variety of different plant types, some are specialists and co-evolved with a single species or family of plants
to do the pollination for that group. It’s scary, in part because
the same threats to honeybees – we’ve heard about honeybees
being at risk, right? Last year, in fact, had one of the highest
rates of colony loss in recorded history, with 40% of honeybee colonies
perishing over the course of the year. These losses can translate
also into the native bee population, and over 40% of invertebrate pollinator species
are at risk of extinction. So, honey bees
are not at risk of extinction; people love honey bees,
and they will continue to keep honeybees and expand their numbers
to satisfy their needs. But people frequently don’t care about the other 4,000 species
of native bees, so which are at dire risk as a result of the same types of impacts
that are impacting honeybees. So, what are they? Let’s talk about the threats
to bees that exist. The first threat that I’d like to mention
is habitat loss, or habitat destruction. Bees need food, and they need
a place to make a nest. Honeybees are cavity nesters, they frequently form
their nests in hollow trees, but they can also form their nests in hollow wall spaces, or trash cans,
or a grill in your backyard. So, in urban settings, honey bees don’t really
have a problem finding a place to live, but other species of bees, like miner bees, that burrow
into the ground to make their nests, can have an impact on their nest sites,
depending on the land use. Up here, we have
two different satellite images. This is Southwest Georgia, Moultrie,
and at the center is Rossman Apiaries, which is a major producer
of honeybees in North America. You can just see from the satellite image
what the land use is like: there are agricultural fields,
there’s forested areas, a good habitat for bees, right? This is where we are now,
here’s the sadly defunct Georgia Dome. You can just see from the satellite image
that the land use is very different, and we are studying,
on the Georgia Tech campus, the impact of that change in land use
on the number and variety of species that are present in the Atlanta area. We don’t know that this is going
to have a negative impact on bees, but we’re looking into it. Another threat to bees is disease. I mentioned before that there are
many migratory beekeepers that are hired to come to the almond orchards
in Northern California each year, in order for there to be
a sufficient crop of almonds there. As these beekeepers bring
their thousands of colonies of bees on tractor trailer trucks
to the orchards in Northern California, they’re bringing with them diseases
that can then be shared between the bees that have come from all over North America
to visit those orchards. One of those diseases
is the Varroa destructor mite. This is a picture of the mite, and it is feeding on a developing bee,
on the pupil form of the bee. This mite is sort of like a tick
that transmits diseases, often in a way that ticks transmit
diseases to humans and other mammals. One of the diseases that it will transmit
is a virus called deformed wing virus, and that virus causes the adult bees
to emerge with shriveled wings. So, this poor bee will never be
on an apple tree; she will never go and collect
nectar and pollen for her hive, and as a result, the hive will suffer. There is an analogous type of disease
that humans are grappling with, and have been grappling with
for about the last year, and that is the Zika virus. I think you’ve heard about this? So, Zika virus, again, a virus
is transmitted by an arthropod vector, just like deformed wing virus
is transmitted by mites, Zika virus is submitted by mosquitoes. Same kind of situation: if a pregnant female
becomes infected with Zika virus, just like if a developing bee
gets infected with deformed wing virus, the baby could be born
with a malformed head, with microcephaly. So ironically, the approach
that we’re taking to deal with threats to people,
like Zika virus, leads us to our next threat to bees. This is a real upper of a talk, isn’t it?
Because we’re just going to leave here — Next threat to bees are toxins
in the environment, like insecticides. The largest public health effort
to stem the Zika outbreak last year involved widespread spraying
of residential neighborhoods with insecticides,
and there’s not a single insecticide that will kill an adult mosquito
that won’t also kill an adult bee. So, pesticides are another big threat. Pesticides also, in addition
to their lethal effects on bees, have sub-lethal effects,
so in combination with poor nutrition low doses of pesticides
can have other problems for bees. And the final threat to bees
that I want to mention is the effects of climate change. These are a couple of maps
that were produced by students who were studying
at Georgia Tech last summer. They took this map, which was based
on data of native bees in the sort of southeastern United States,
in current day conditions, and then they applied
a climate model to that map to predict where the range of that bee
would be in about 50 years. And as you can see,
the range has shifted significantly. Similar work has been done
by other researchers, looking at the range of different
plant species, different tree species. So, that image that we saw
on the first slide, of the bee and the flower
is very fragile, right? It’s delicate; you need a flower,
and you need a bee there at the same time, in order for that to occur. So, there’s a risk
that as the range of plants change, and as the range of bees change, we could be compromising
that timing of that specific interaction. Oh, here’s the good news. Okay. What can we do? That said, I think there are things, positive things that everybody can do
to help make the life of a bee better, to help ensure our food supply. One of those things is to help
conserve and create habitats for bees. This is an image
of some volunteers from Turner that were out with Trees Atlanta, last spring, planting fruit trees
in West Atlanta. Atlanta is a very green place;
there are tons of bees in Atlanta. We have a lot of trees in the area. So, if we can maintain
those tree populations, plant more, we’re creating habitat for bees. And it’s a good thing. Other things that we can do is try
to mitigate the effects of climate change. We want to reduce our carbon footprint, so if we can reduce greenhouse emissions, we can help turn
the tide on climate change, and help preserve
the range of our native species. Another thing that everyone can do
is to help support local honey production, and sort of local methods of beekeeping. Big commercial operations
move thousands of beehives from one place to another,
all season long, collecting nectar as they go
to produce honey. And that has a big carbon footprint,
to truck bees from place to place. It also spreads disease. If you can support a local beekeeper that keeps their bees
in the same place all year round, you’re going to help stop
the spread of disease in some ways, and you’re going to
reduce your carbon footprint, and you’re also going to have
delicious honey that’s produced from flowers
in your neighborhood, which is always delicious. And the last thing you can do
is rather than spray your yard: spray yourself. Using bug repellent on yourself
is not dangerous to bees at all. So, if you want to keep
the mosquitoes away in the summer, rather than turning to a pest control
company to spray your yard, just spray a little DEET on yourself
before you go outside. I hope that you have become
more interested in bees, in this time, and that you might consider
also contributing to scientific efforts to study bees. We have a group of students,
computer science students at Georgia Tech, that are using images
that individuals have uploaded to Flickr of bees on flowers, and stripping the metadata
from these images. Every picture of a bee on a flower that is
taken with a smartphone, for example, that has it’s location services turned on, will include a timestamp
and location information, and that can be used to create maps of when and where bee-flower
interactions are occurring. So, if you’re out,
and you see a bee on a flower, upload that image to Flickr, tag it with the word ‘bee’
and the word ‘flower’, and our computer scientists
will find it and scrape it’s data. And finally, here we are, this delicate easily disrupted
relationship between bees and flowers is very important both
to the future of plants on Earth and the future of our food supply, and I hope that you will join me
in helping to protect it. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments 16

  • Am I first? 😮

  • 💙 TedX

  • Hi it's the boss

  • great thanks sister

  • Any other small-time youtubers around? Comment here so I can check out your stuff and give you a sub:)

  • I am glad I actually came upon this video. No click bait, just straight up offering me what I suspected I would hear. And of course, now I'm on a worried course of wondering how we will keep our lives and our earth in balance to suit the humans and its fellow inhabitants. Man I wish science and policy as well as philosophy would quickly hasten have a threeway already xD

  • thank you very much ..actually I love bees

  • reminds me alot of kurgesagt.

  • informative talk. yes I am more interested now.

  • save the bees 2017

  • "plants are very bad at having sex with each other" ??? I would rather say that they are much more creative at it then humans. They just do it in a way that gets more life involved. Pretty beautiful.照る p.s. when you say that they get the bees to do the "dirty work" – it totally takes the beauty and magic out of the whole process. ;-(

  • Bees are not even the best pollinator actually mosquitos are actually better pollinators and they are not going anywhere. Nothing against bees just telling the facts.

  • I'm from Brazil, and I am going to college in a few months, I love, while I am free, to see this kind of video, this is so interesting, addictive and the lecturers are so clever and creative, I am sure that it'll provide me a lot of ideas when I start my studies, futhermore this help me to improve my english, mainly my listening, which is still bad, so I am gratefull, thanks!

  • Very interesting video!

  • On the subject of insecticides…"spray yourself and not your yard": DEET isn't good for us humans, either. I've been using a natural alternative made of different Essential Oils for the past 3 years and it's quite effective. These oils are not harmful to my family, my pets or our environment. I can put them on my children and I or I can diffuse in our area. They also repel a wide variety of pests. If anyone is interested, please message me here on YouTube. We are a rural family who also keep bees. We have experienced the difficulties of beekeeping with the pests and diseases associated with such. My husband is a native to this area and has noticed the drastic decline of the native species of bees here. In fact, it's been several years since he's even seen what he calls Black Bees, our native species. We had thought to find a colony or two to help preserve them but we've not found any, at all. We're still looking.

  • Save Our Planet.

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