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I see several websites claiming that without bees, mankind will be extinct in four years. Does human survival depend on bees?

Citing Albert Einstein's saying to the effect that mankind would become extinct four years after honey bees disappeared from the face of the earth, Haim Efrat, head of the Beekeeping Division, said he'd rather sound the alarm than be complacent. "I don't mind if I turn out to be wrong and I say it clearly: We have Colony Collapse Disorder here in Israel. Though we are not even close to the problem they face in the US and Canada, tomorrow morning we could wake up to a severe case of the phenomenon." http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/will-mankind-be-extinct-in-four-years-if-we-lose-our-honeybees.html

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From Keith S. Delaplane, Professor, Dept. Entomology, University of Georgia:

  • Did Einstein say this?

    [T]here is no good evidence that Albert Einstein actually said this. In fact he most assuredly did not. All you have to do is google “Einstein bees,” and you’ll get the whole story: how this quote surfaced for the first time in the early 1990s, long after Einstein’s death, and in contexts far removed from the possibility of verification.

  • Is it true, nonetheless?

    If I were to summarize the latest answers to the questions above, it would be something like this: Does human life depend on bee pollination? No. To what extent does the quality of human life depend on bee pollination? Well, it depends on where you live and what crops we’re talking about.

  • How much of our food is dependent on bees?

    The authors of the [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data] analysis concluded that the proportion of global food production attributable to animal pollination ranges from 5% in industrialized nations to 8% in the developing world.

  • Do bees matter?

    I think bee advocates do their cause a disservice when they stoke the flames of hyperbole and sensationalism. Much better to pose the question as a quality of life issue. To the extent that we value a diverse food supply with minimized trauma to the environments where it is produced, we will place a high value indeed on honey bees and other pollinators.


For the curious, the study of the FAO data categorized crops into one of 5 categories, based on their level of pollinator dependence. 0: no dependence; 1: 0-10% reduction without pollinators; 2: 10-40% reduction without pollinators; 3: 40-90% reduction without pollinators; and 4: >90% reduction without pollinators.

Okra, Gumbo 2
Kiwifruit   4
Onion, Shallot, Welsh onion 0†
Garlic  0‡
Almond  3
Cashew nut, and Cashew-apple    3
Pineapple   0‡
Groundnut, Peanut   1
Asparagus   0†
Oat 0
Brazil nut, Para nut, Cream nut 4
Sugar beet  0
Mustard Seed    2
Cabbage, Cauliflower    0†
Rapeseed, Oilseed rape, Canola  2
Pigeon pea, Cajan pea, Congo bean   1
Chile pepper, Red pepper, Bell pepper, Green pepper, Allspice, Pimento  1
Papaya  1
Safflower Seed  1
Chestnut    2
Quinoa  0
Chick pea, Bengal gram, Garbanzo bean   0
Chicory root    0†
Watermelon  4
Bergamot, Chinotto, Citron, Clementine, Grapefruit, Kumquat, Lemon, Lime, Mandarine, Orange, Pomelo, Tangerine  1
Coconut 2
Coffee  2
Cola nut, Kola nut  3
Taro (Coco Yam) 0†
Cantaloupe, Melon   4
Cucumber, Gherkin   3
Pumpkin, Squash, Gourd, Marrow, Zucchini    4
Carrot  0†
Yam 0‡
Persimmon   1
Millet  0
Oil palm fruit  1
Cardamom, Mace, Nutmeg  3
Buckwheat   3
Fig     2
Strawberry  2
Soybean 2
Cotton seed 2
Sunflower seed  2
Barley  0
Sweet potato    0‡
Lettuce 0
Lentil  0
Linseed, Flax   1
Tomato  1
Apple   3
Mango   3
Cassava 0‡
Mixed Grain 0
Banana, Plantain    0‡
Olive   0
Rice, Paddy 0
Avocado     3
Bean dry like Kidney bean, Haricot bean, Lima bean, Azuki bean, Mungo bean, String bean 1
Date palm   0
Pepper  0
Pea, dry and green like Garden pea, Field pea   0
Apricot 3
Sour cherry, Sweet cherry   3
Plum    3
Peach, Nectarine    3
Pear    3
Black currant, Red currant  2
Raspberry, Blackberry, Cloudberry, Northern dewberry, Southern dewberry 3
Sugar cane  0
Rye 0
Sesame seed 2
Eggplant, Aubergine 2
Potato  0‡
Sorghum 0
Spinach 0
Cocoa   4
Triticale   0
Wheat   0
Cranberry, Blueberry    3
Vanilla     4
Broad Bean, Faba bean, Field bean, Horse bean   2
Bean    1
Bambara bean, Bambara groundnut, Earth pea  1
Cowpea, Blackeye pea, Blackeye bean 1
Table grape, Vine grape 0
Maize, Green corn, Sweet corn   0

† Pollinators increase seed production to produce the vegetative parts that we consume.
‡ Pollinators increase seed production in plant breeding, but the plants reproduce vegetatively and we consume the vegetative parts.
  • +1. The "FAO analysis" is an analysis /of/ FAO crop data, not an analysis written /by/ FAO. A hyperlink for the analysis is aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/04/01/aob.mcp076 -- and adding a summary of what we would lose (e.g. wildflowers, fruit trees, ...) may not be strictly necessary to answer the question, but would IMO be interesting and on-topic. – ChrisW Aug 31 '13 at 22:32
  • Based on the above chart, all the good stuff will be gone or become vary scarce with no bees around. +1 for the Einstein didn't say it. Accepted answer based on that we'll survive, but quality of life might decrease. – Jan Vladimir Mostert Sep 1 '13 at 10:15
  • Also, note the endnotes for some of the scoring. For instance - onions, etc, do not require pollination in order to produce their edible parts. However, without pollination, they would not reproduce, and would not exist. That one jumped out at me because when my chives bloom, they are covered by bumblebees. So, realize the narrow context of that scoring, and that even many of the ones with a zero score could be severely impacted by the loss of pollinators. – PoloHoleSet Mar 22 '17 at 14:03
  • Cocoa would see a >90% reduction without pollinators? "Save the Bees" should re-brand as "Save the Chocolate" – Engineer Toast Mar 27 '17 at 20:54

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