Importance of Pollinators
Pollinators are incredibly vital at the global scale. The complex ecosystems we see today would not be possible without the long evolutionary history pollinators share with other plants and animals. The plant-pollinator relationship is perhaps one of the most fascinating and complex co-evolutionary relationships on earth. This unique partnership has driven the development of terrestrial ecosystems on earth for millions of years, resulting in the abundance of plant life that exists now. Today, pollinators continue to enhance and diversify plant life around the globe and their importance to all of us cannot be over stressed.
When we think about the importance of pollinators, we tend to focus on their role in our food supply. About one-third of the food and drink we consume depends directly or indirectly on pollinators.
In the United States, more than 150 crop plants require pollinators. Pollinators’ impact on agriculture is worth around $29 billion in the U.S. alone and between $235 billion and $577 billion worldwide.
Pollinators are also important to natural ecosystems. They are “keystone species,” or a species on which other members of the ecosystem depend. Only well-pollinated plants bear fruits, nuts, and seeds on the scale required to keep plant and animal life churning over. The act of pollinating is not the only service rendered by pollinators—their bodies are also a vital food source. Caterpillars of moths and butterflies are especially important; they turn extraordinary amounts of indigestible plant matter into digestible insect biomass, the kind that fuels growing birds and mammals.
Around ninety percent of plant species have flowers, and ninety percent of those flowering species are pollinated by animals. While some birds and bats will pollinate plants, most plants are pollinated by insects. We tend to focus on butterflies and bees (especially honey bees), but other insects are pollinators too—moths, flies, beetles, and wasps can all be pollinators. Together, these insects are responsible for completing the life cycle of the hundreds of thousands of plants that require animal pollination to reproduce. Without pollinators, our world would look much different.
Pollinators have made headlines due to well-documented declines in their population around the globe. This decline has likely not been driven by a single factor. Instead, scientists agree that a combination of factors including pesticide exposure, habitat destruction, pest pressure, disease, invasive species, and climate change has combined to dramatically impact pollinator health.