Why are Pollinators Important for Ecosystems?

Native plants, pollinators as food sources

While some plants can self-pollinate, many must be cross-pollinated with pollen from another member of their species. If these species are not cross-pollinated, they do not produce seed and cannot reproduce. Some plants, like figs or yuccas, even form obligate pollinator relationships with a single species of insect—meaning no other insect can pollinate them. The depths to which ecosystems depend on pollinator services is extraordinary. Even self-pollinating plants can see benefit from pollinators; producing higher yields of seed or fruit when pollinated compared to when they are not.

While pollination services are highly valuable to natural ecosystems, the biomass of pollinators is important too. Moth and butterfly caterpillars form vital parts of insectivorous animal’s diets. Some bird populations have been shown to rise and decline with outbreaks of particular caterpillar species. Spruce budworm outbreaks have long been shown to have dramatic effects on some warbler species, both at the local and regional scale.

Venier, L. A., and S. B. Holmes. 2010. A review of the interaction between forest birds and eastern spruce budworm. Environ. Rev. 18: 191–207.