Research Article: Individual perception of bees: Between perceived danger and willingness to protect

Date Published: June 29, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mona Lisa Schönfelder, Franz Xaver Bogner, Nikolaos Georgantzis.


The current loss of biodiversity has found its way into the media. Especially the loss of bees as pollinators has recently received much attention aiming to increase public awareness about the consequence of pollinator loss and strategies for protection. However, pollinating insects like bees often prompt considerable anxiety. Negative emotions such as fear and disgust often lead to lack of support for conservation and appropriate initiatives for protection. Our study monitored perceptions of bees in the contexts of conservation and danger bees possibly represent by applying a semantic differential using contrasting adjectives under the heading “I think bees are…”. Additionally, open questions were applied to examine individual perceptions of danger and conservation of bees. Respondents were students from primary school, secondary school and university. We compared these novices (n = 499) to experts (beekeepers, n = 153). An exploratory factor analysis of the semantic differential responses yielded three major oblique factors: Interest, Danger and Conservation & Usefulness. The inter-correlations of these factors were significant. Although all subgroups showed an overall high willingness to protect bees, the perception of danger scored medium. The individual experience of bee stings was the most prevalent reason for expressing fear. Educational programs focusing on pollinator conservation may reduce the perceived danger through removing misinformation, and supporting interest in the species. Based on the overall positive attitude toward bees, we suggest introducing bees (e.g., Apis mellifera) as a flagship species for pollinator conservation.

Partial Text

Pollination animals are key players in most terrestrial ecosystems, providing an essential ecological service which affects human life directly and indirectly [1,2]. Especially wild and domesticated bees are the primary pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops. Through their ecological and economic value they hold an exceptional position within global ecosystems [2,3]. Among the generally detected loss of biodiversity [4] there is increasingly strong evidence for a decline in pollinators. This decline constitutes a potential threat to the vital ecological services, and could lead to a lasting negative effect on wild plant diversity, crop production and food security [3]. A variety of possible causes of this documented decline have attracted growing attention in recent decades by the scientific community and general public. A number of studies observed different factors which may be driving the detected loss. Habitat loss, parasites, disease as well as pesticides are the reported major stressors [5]. It should be underlined that in the majority of cases these factors do not act in isolation. Rather the interaction between these factors leads to harm, and this interaction seems to vary in different parts of the world [5]. Striving for a well-balanced healthy planet, awareness of pollinator conservation is needed at the local and global levels [6]. In recent years, various actions, campaigns and programs all over the world have been implemented to raise public awareness of the significance of pollinator conservation [1,7]. In the case of bees, the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder, the unexpected loss of honeybee colonies, has attracted great attention among researchers, politics and the public in recent years [6,8]. One fundamental tool to locally counteract the current trend in biodiversity loss is environmental education [5,9], aiming to foster awareness of the conservation of biodiversity.

Against the background of running into danger of a biodiversity loss of important pollinators, it is crucial to better understand people’s attitude toward selected species [38]. Bees as most prominent pollinators are ubiquitous in current media and school curricula. However, there is a lack of studies investigating peoples’ perception of bees. The present study monitored attitudes toward bees from novices and experts regarding the perceived danger and the willingness to protect them, and also examined qualitatively collected data to understand the reasons behind the gathered perceptions.

This study is the first one to focus on peoples’ attitude toward bees. Considering the current and pressing need to conserve pollinating animals, it is crucial for educators to be aware of attitudes toward animals like bees. We found that perceived danger, interest and the willingness to protect bees are interrelated. Therefore, reducing fear and simultaneously increasing interest could be key aspects in educational settings. As the topic “bees as social insects” and “pollination” are part of nearly all trans-national curricula, we strongly suggest connecting both issues and additionally consider the following aspects:




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