Revealing secrets about
the birds and the bees
Pollination - An Essential Ecosystem Service

POLLINATION: An Essential Ecosystem Service

Our Future Depends on Pollination
Many people think only of allergies when they hear the word pollen. But pollination — the transfer of pollen grains to fertilize the ovules of flowers to produce fruit and seed — is essential for ecological health and societal well being. While some plants are self-pollinated or wind-pollinated, over 70% of flowering plants require help from animals to produce fruit and seed.
Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. At least 200,000 invertebrate species — such as bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies — serve as pollinators worldwide. An estimated 2,000 species of vertebrates, including birds, mammals, and reptiles, also pollinate plant species.
Pollinators play a significant role in the production of more than 150 food crops in the US. These crops include many of the foods that form part of our regular diet, such as almonds, apples, berries, melons, plums, and squash, and many other non-food crops like cotton.










Valuation of Pollination Services
Pollinators are important in the production of an estimated 30 percent of the human diet, fibers, edible oils, medicines created from plants, and others important products around the world.
In Alabama, a single female southeastern blueberry bee visits about 50,000 blueberry flowers during her few weeks as an adult and pollinates approximately $75 worth of berries.
Vertebrates are essential pollinators of both economically and ecologically valuable plants. In the Southwestern U.S. bats pollinate the saguaro cactus, which provides homes and food for a multitude of desert species, as well as the agave, from which tequila is produced.
The most important single pollinator for agricultural purposes is the honey bee. It is estimated that in 2000 the value of U.S. agricultural crop production due to honey bee pollination was $14.6 billion. Native bees and other wild-living insects are estimated to contribute $3 billion annually to American farmers in the form of “free” pollination.

"It is important to remember that no species exists in isolation. Each is part of an ecological web, and as we lose more and more pieces of that web, the remaining structure must eventually collapse." — Carol Ann Kearns and David Inouye

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Are Pollinators in Decline?
The National Research Council report, Status of Pollinators in North America, states that pollinator declines are undeniably occurring. The report identifies the main causes as habitat loss, pesticide use, and, especially in honey bees, diseases.
One of the greatest threats to pollinators is habitat destruction caused by changes in land use. When people convert wild lands for domestic uses the food and nesting requirements of many pollinators are disrupted.
Pesticides are a major threat to insect pollinators, although precautions such as better regulation, avoidance of overspray, and changes in the type and timing of pesticide use can reduce the threat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists over 50 pollinator species as threatened or endangered. Continued declines in pollinator activity could mean rising costs for pollinator-dependent fruits and vegetables and the disruption of entire ecological systems.
The number of managed honey bee colonies in the U.S. has decreased by more than 50 percent since 1945 and the remainder has further declined another 50% since then. The recent intensification of loss, called “Colony Collapse Disorder”, is thought to be caused by a combination of pathogens, parasites; environmental stresses, and management stresses.

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What You Can Do
Create your own pollinator garden using a wide variety of native flowering plants and by providing nesting sites.
Reduce the level of pesticides used in and around your home.
Support agricultural enterprises that use pollinator-friendly practices such as farms that avoid or minimize pesticide use.
Encourage the planting of locally native flowers in parks and greenspaces.
Encourage local clubs or school groups to build artificial habitats such as butterfly gardens, bat boxes, and bee boxes.
Encourage government agencies to take into account the full economic benefits of wild pollinators when formulating policies for agriculture and other land uses. Stress the need to develop techniques for cultivating native pollinator species for crop pollination.
Bring the importance of biological diversity to the attention of your state and national representatives. Stress that diversity includes beneficial native insects. Be prepared to provide local or regional examples of important species.
Support funding for research on pollinators and conservation of pollinators and their habitats

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For More Information
This fact sheet is part of a series of materials on ecosystem services available through the Communicating Ecosystem Services Project of the Ecological Society of America. For more information about the project, contact:
Ecological Society of America
1990 M Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington DC 20036
202-833-8773 • esahq@esa.org • www.esa.org

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Additional Resources:
The National Biological Information Infrastructure, http://pollinators.nbii.gov/portal/server.pt
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Pollinator Conservation Program, http://www.xerces.org/Pollinator_Insect_Conservation/index.htm
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign http://www.pollinator.org
Urban Bee Gardens, http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens
Urban Bee Gardens, http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens
USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab, http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/site_main.htm?modecode=54-28-05-00
Ecology and Society. 2001. Special issue on pollinators, http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol5/iss1

Updated June 20, 2008.

Reference as: Ecological Society of America. 2008. Communicating Ecosystem Services Pollination Toolkit: Pollination Fact Sheet - Revealing Secrets About the Birds and the Bees. Updated June 20, 2008. Online at www.esa.org/ecoservices




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