Much has been written recently about the plight of the honeybee. The apocalyptic-sounding “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) has been anointed as the universally accepted term to describe the demise of between thirty and fifty percent of all honeybee colonies over the past decade. The problem is, scientists haven’t yet pinpointed the singular reason or amalgamation of reasons underpinning CCD.
As the son of a beekeeping enthusiast, I applaud the attention that honeybees have garnered. Growing up in rural Michigan, my father would don his beekeeping veil and head out weekend after weekend to lovingly tend to the bees residing in the waist high stacks of boxes nestled into ten acres behind our home among tangles of wild blackberries, sumac bushes, and chokecherry trees. We’d give jars honey as holiday gifts to bus drivers, teachers, postal workers—almost anyone who crossed our paths. Several members of my extended family member still raise bees, on an even larger scale. They, like many in the field, are concerned about what the future holds for these hardworking insects.
The importance of honeybees to American agriculture is well documented—an estimated $15 Billion in U.S. crops are pollinated annually by bees. They have been called not only the “unsung, unpaid laborers of the American agricultural system” (Time Magazine) but fundamentally “the glue that holds our agricultural system together” (The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus). I prefer to see them as more generally as pillars of the pollinating community.
Pollination is the lifeblood of plant growth—in its simplest form, pollination is the transfer of pollen (a sticky powder produced by the stamens of flowers) from one plant to another to effect fertilization. While some plants rely on wind to provide pollination and others are self-pollinating, most flowering plants require the services of an expert pollinator such as the honeybee to effect “cross-pollination” (pollination from one flower of a species to another). 
While countless words have been written on the results that a depletion of bees could have on the backbone of America’s agricultural system, an additional and under-appreciated — but invaluable —”product” of honeybees is the positive impact they make on animal welfare: in particular, the welfare of herbivores living in the wild. It has been estimated that cross-pollination helps up to ninety percent of wild plants to thrive. Without bees, not only would wild plant life suffer and expire, but so would many of the animal species that depend on these very plants for their own survival. It is axiomatic that the welfare of every animal is dependent on the availability of food and water. Without bees and the plants they pollinate, the resulting scarcity of plant life available to herbivores surviving and thriving across our lands would plummet, with catastrophic results for the welfare of these animals.
So the next time you think about why the honeybee’s plight is so important, don’t just think of the agricultural and economic hardships that will result, but keep top of mind the welfare of our animal brethren dependent on the land and our industrious pollinating dynamos.
 Bees are powerful pollinators, but their work is quite unintentional. Bees require significant quantities of nectar to feed themselves and a nectar/pollen mixture to feed their larvae, and they visit large numbers of flowers regularly to obtain these foods. During these visits, their hairy bodies trap pollen and carry it between flowers, effecting pollination.