• Brittany Evans

The Importance Of Pollinators

Around the world pollinators, such as bees, are seeing a decline in their populations. These declines are often due to pesticide use, deforestation, and urbanization of pollinator habitats. Not only do bees and other pollinators support the food people eat, but they also play a vital role in the ecosystem. While there are other pollinators, bees are considered the greatest of all pollinators. The extinction of bees alone would create a disastrous ripple effect across many ecosystems. More than one-third of the world’s crop species such as alfalfa, sunflower, and numerous fruits and vegetables depend on bee pollination, an ecological service valued in North America at $20 billion a year. Without pollinators, these crops could all but disappear from grocery store shelves. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.

Pollinators provide a greater service than simply stocking the produce section in the grocery store. Indirectly bees and other pollinators provide food for wildlife populations as well as livestock. Without the help of pollinators, there would be a decline in the health and well-being of livestock animals. As previously mentioned bees are contributors to the production of alfalfa. Alfalfa is often used as a staple in livestock diets and without the help of pollinators, farmers would have to seek alfalfa or other grains elsewhere. This would cause farmers to have to raise their prices, in turn causing a price increase for consumers as well. The USDA provides financial incentives to livestock farmers who are willing to participate in the Natural Resources Conservation Service program. The program works with farmers to provide better forage for their cattle, improve existing hayfields and convert former cornfields into a healthy pasture. Reed Fitton was one of the first livestock farmers to join the program. Fitton has since started letting his pastures go a little longer between rotations, allowing the forage to grow taller than the minimum requirement. Doing so has provided pollinators access to food, shelter, and nesting sites while also improving the health of Fitton's herd. Fitton noticed a decline in the frequency of bloat, bloat is a serious condition of trapped gas that can lead to death in cattle. These proactive efforts are rewarding for pollinators and livestock farmers alike.

Wildlife populations are also reliant on bees for food security and diversity. Without the pollination efforts from bees, several varieties of wild berries, nuts, and flowers become scarce continuing the ripple effect in the animal kingdom. Consider the birds and small mammals that feed off the berries and seeds that rely on bee pollination. They would die of hunger and in turn, their predators, the omnivores or carnivores that continue the food chain, would also starve.

Beyond agriculture and wildlife, bees have a role in the medical system. Honey, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom have all been used in traditional and modern medicine. Researchers have identified bioactive properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly which suggest the presence of compounds with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, and anticancer properties. A study conducted by scientists at Arizona State University has discovered that older honey bees effectively reverse brain aging when they take on nest responsibilities typically handled by much younger bees, indicating that bees may play a role in the reversal or prevention of Dementia and Alzheimers.

Saving the pollinators is not as simple as becoming a beekeeper. High densities of domesticated honey bee colonies increase competition between native pollinators for forage, putting even more pressure on the wild species that are already in decline. Honey bees are extreme generalist foragers and monopolize floral resources, thus leading to exploitative competition—that is, where one species uses up a resource, not leaving enough to go around. What you can do to help is to support local pollinators by creating habitats in your yard that are pollinator-friendly. Creating a pollinator-friendly habitat can be done by planting pollen-rich flowering plants and trees, avoiding the use of pesticides, and providing shallow areas of clean water. The wild pollinators in your yard are sufficient to balance the ecosystem, we just need to realize their importance.


Speaking Plainly:

  • Pollinators, such as bees, have seen declining populations in recent years.

  • This creates a ripple effect in our ecosystem and can have disastrous effects on plants, humans, and animals.

  • Bees are not only great for pollination, researchers have found ways to use them in medical fields as well.

  • Domestic beekeeping is not a solution to saving the bees. We should focus more on creating pollinator-friendly habitats.