This year, we celebrate Pollinator Week from June 22–28.
Pollination ensures that a plant will produce full-bodied fruit and a full set of viable seeds. It occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by animals such as birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles and other animals, or by the wind. This leads to fertilization, then seed and fruit production in plants.
A diverse array of plants rely on pollinators, including more than 180,000 plant species, including 1,200 crops, making pollinators essential to the health of plants, other animals and people.
Without pollinators, many plant species would simply disappear. This, in turn, would influence other natural and economic functions within our world.
Biodiversity is the amount of different species in a given environment or habitat. Pollinators improve biodiversity by facilitating the reproduction of many diverse plant species that, in turn, provide food and shelter for birds, mammals and insects. Biodiverse ecosystems are more resilient against sudden changes caused by disease, natural disasters, changes in weather and human activities. It also promotes sustainable natural and agricultural ecosystems.
Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere through the capture or storage of the gas in plants and soils. Photosynthesis, the process in which plants synthesize their food, uses atmospheric carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen in its place, storing atmospheric carbon as biomass. The plants that rely on pollinators are absolutely critical to maintaining the balance of our atmosphere and mitigating climate change, thus allowing us to survive and thrive.
Pollinators help produce one of every three bites of food we consume. Pollinators add $217 billion to the global economy, and honey bees alone are responsible for between $1.2 billion and $5.4 billion in agricultural productivity in the United States. Pollinators promote food security, the assurance that an individual has a sufficient supply of food rather than uncertainty regarding his or her next meal. Without pollinators, the amount and types of food produced would be greatly diminished. Foods like tomatoes, broccoli, beans and cucumbers would not even be possible without pollinators.
Raw materials are natural resources processed and used in a variety of ways. Each year, 6 billion tons of natural biomass are converted to fuel, paper, wood products, cotton fiber, cooking oil, herbs, essential oils, cosmetics and medicines. The plants that produce these products often rely on pollinators.
Soil health and stability determine the protein health of plants, which helps plants fight pests and disease. When plants supported by pollinators die and decay, necessary nutrients become available for the next generation of life. A decline in pollinators means less nutrient cycling and less fertile soil. A lack of fertile soil and plant life would render large parts of our world unlivable.
Food for wildlife
Pollinators and the plants they support provide sustenance and other resources to other forms of life. Honey from bees provides food for a wide variety of animals. As primary producers, plants provide energy that all living animals need to consume. If native plants suffer from a lack of pollinators and are outcompeted and replaced by invasive species, other plants and animals — including us — are also affected.
These are just some of the ways that bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators contribute to the natural and economic health of the world.
But just as important is how they enhance our lives. Pollinators are often the first types of wildlife we come into contact with, whether it’s an elegant butterfly, fuzzy moth, plump bumblebee or acrobatic hummingbird. We can get close to watch them move from flower to flower. They don’t even seem to notice us.
There is increasing evidence that many pollinators are in decline. Here are simple things you can do to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance:
- Plant a pollinator garden.
- Provide nesting habitat.
- Avoid or limit pesticide use.