Bees defence for biodiversity

Meeting in Tunisia (1st-6th June 2014) during the institutional mission of Felcos Umbria and Apimed concerning the Mediterranean CooBEEration.

The international Coobeeration project involves several Mediterranean Countries aiming for the cooperation between different peoples and the study of the bees' role in biodiversity safeguard.


Article from ECOCOSCIENZA 4 – 2014 by Dr Claudio Perrini:

Mediterranean CooBEEration is a project started in February 2014 and which, in a three-year activity, will involve several Countries like Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestinian territories, Italy and other Nations which face the Mediterranean Sea, to support beekeeping and its key role in the biodiversity safeguard, the improvement of food security and the socio-economic development. The partners of the project, co-financed by the European Commission, are Felcos Umbria (Fund of local authorities for off-centre cooperation and sustainable human development), Apimed (Mediterranean Beekeepers Association), Undp (United Nations Development Programme), Dipsa (Department of Agricultural Sciences) of the University di Bologna and Inat (National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia). Besides the specific aims, the project has got another finality apart from all the expected actions, which is that of contributing to the building of the identity, integration and cohesion of the Mediterranean area and, at the same time, showing how various participants of different nature (international organisations, local authorities, producers, academic community and governmental organisations) can work together, organising and harmonising roles and actions in the picture of a shared sustainable development goal.
The first goal consists of a series of activities intended for the beekeepers to strengthen their local and national associations, their technical competences and their ability to relate with the organisations and the governments to influence local, national and international policies in agricultural, environmental and commercial fields. The second one wants to realise an international awareness campaign to create a global alliance to protect bees and beekeeping, favouring suitable normative policies for protecting this key industry. The third goal plans, besides the creation of an Observatory on Mediterranean beekeeping to monitor the industry and sponsor initiatives, the development of a research activity to study the essential role of bees in the areas which are subject to environmental degradation, biodiversity impoverishment and desertification.

The essential bees' role for wild plants

The bees and biodiversity experimentation has been introduced into this international cooperation project, inasmuch as in literature there are very few data on the importance of honey bees as pollinators of spontaneous plants, which are responsible for preserving and increasing biodiversity on our planet. The most of the publications about this industry are, in fact, addressed to establish the efficacy and the economic value of the pollination of the botanic species cultivated (about 150 plants compared to the more than 350.000 botanic species known on the earth) necessary to the man sustenance. Actually, the preservation or the restoration of biodiversity is an essential condition to maintain the fertility of the soil and the environmental healthiness, and consequently for producing food in sufficient quantity, but above all quality, for the world population.
The destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats is the main cause of the reduction of landscape biodiversity. The impoverishment of the spontaneous flora, the expansion of monocultures, the generalisation of parasiticides, the systematic scything of herbaceous cultivation before flowering, the elimination of hedges and woods, the tillage and levelling of slopes, the wild overbuilding and the urbanisation have stolen to bees the essential and traditional sources of supply. In this context the whole world witnesses, especially in the developed countries, to a reduction of the bees patrimony.
Reminding the bee contribution to the protection, preservation and restoration of the territory, as much as its pollination works for the most (75-80%) of the flowered higher plants, both cultivated and wild, here it is the unavoidable other side of the coin. The environment hopelessly degrades losing its biggest richness: the biodiversity. It does not concern only the pollination of the agricultural cultivations, with all the known productive and economic implications, as the bees' role is not just about the agricultural picture: the fecundation of wild plants is largely more important than that of cultivated plants, even though the action is more delicate and almost impossible to quantify in figures.


Burned area


Bees can help to restore the vegetation of burned areas .

The reforestation is essential, especially in the regions with a much damaged environment, to avoid or limit natural disasters such as floods and landslides. The man behaviour is causing an impoverishment of our land: the woods are cut down, or they die or are set on fire, and the plants which are left are put in conditions they cannot reproduce anymore for lack of pollination. Furthermore, a lot of arboreal, shrubby and herbaceous species' going to seed is obstructed or not favoured, for negligence and ignorance about the biological reality. It causes a damage, because these vegetable species improve, enrich and hold down the ground, regulate water regime, supply food, industrial products and healing essences, and are useful in a thousand of other ways. In consequence of these neglected behaviours, the land will become unproductive, barren and instable, despite the great agricultural plans.
Several countries which face the Mediterranean Sea are more or less intensely hit by these kinds of phenomena, with negative consequences on environmental and socio-economic stability of the resident populations.
The experimentation included in the CooBEEration project will have to judge the honey bees contribution concerning the pollination of wild plants and, particularly, to define their role in the restoration phases of degraded areas from the point of view of biodiversity, such as those which are subject to desertification because of erosion/drought, landslides or fires. But why focusing on honey bees? First of all because, as mentioned before, there are very few data about it. Furthermore, domestic bees have got two characteristics, among the several positive ones, extremely useful for the plant reproduction success, particularly in extreme areas such as the degraded ones. The first one is the bee foraging, which is the perseverance of bees in visiting the flowers of the same botanical species during the whole daily activity. The importance of this behaviour is easily understandable: the pollen exchange between different flowers and plants, but belonging to the same species, allows the success of the cross-pollination. The second peculiarity concerns how many times foraging bees of the same beehive visit flowers every day: it is about 10 millions! With these peculiarities, it is easy to understand how much the honey bees' activity can be unrestrainable on spontaneous plants pollination.
Environmental defence and improvement are unconceivable if vegetation is not protected, but the flora safeguard is unconceivable too without the help of the pollinator bugs, a ring of primary importance in the global ecological chain.


Dr Claudio Porrini
Dipsa (Department of Agricultural Sciences), University of Bologna


Back to Projects