Many people think only of allergies when they hear the word pollen. But pollination — the transfer of pollen grains to fertilize the seed-producing ovaries of flowers — is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the United States — among them apples, alfalfa, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.
Bees, both managed honey bees and native bees, are the primary pollinators. However, more than 100,000 invertebrate species, including bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies, serve as pollinators — as well as 1,035 species of vertebrates, including birds, mammals, and reptiles. In the United States, the annual benefit of managed honey bees to consumers is estimated at $14.6 billion. The services provided by native pollinators further contribute to the productivity of crops as well as to the survival and reproduction of many native plants.
However, long-term population trends for some North American pollinators are “demonstrably downward,” says a new report from the National Research Council1.
Observable decreases in wild populations of bees, butterflies, and moths are of great concern to producers of fruits, vegetables, nuts, alfalfa, and flowers. These crops depend on wild and domestic pollinators. Growers in California, Florida, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Hawaii are especially concerned. More important is the disturbing notion of an imbalance in the natural ecosystem and biodiversity on which all food production depends. Habitat loss for pollinators by human activity poses an immediate and frequently irreversible threat. Other factors responsible for population decreases include invasive plant species, broad-spectrum pesticide use, disease, and weather.
For the most part, the general public is unaware of the decrease in pollinator populations and the implications this has for agricultural production. The Nature’s Partners: Pollinators, Plants, and You curriculum is designed to educate young people about
- pollinators and the important role they play in providing many of the foods we eat and the plant fiber used in our clothing and household goods, and
- ways they can help pollinators survive and flourish by protecting and creating pollinator-friendly habitat.
The Nature’s Partners curriculum is just one step toward increasing the public’s awareness and sense of responsibility that are essential to a successful conservation program for pollinators.