Vicki Wojcik, PH.D. has been working to protect and promote pollinators with Pollinator Partnership since 2011. As Director, she oversees P2 Canada's research and programs, keeping on top of new and emerging pollinator issues. In honor of Pollinator Week, Vicki shares with us why pollinators are so important, what’s going on with pollinator populations now and how we can all work to protect them.
When you sit down to have a bit to eat, or when you look out your window and enjoy seeing trees and flowers, are you thinking about the pollinators that make it all possible? If not, you certainly should be. Pollinators are all those hard-working bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, bats, and hummingbirds that help put food on your table while ensuring our ecosystems are in working order. The service they provide often goes unnoticed, but the work pollinators do is vital to keep the Earth thriving—and unfortunately this indispensable life-support system is in trouble.
Pollinators are great!
There is a fantastic diversity of pollinators that have evolved over millennia with plants. Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and even other small mammals and reptiles pollinate. Pollinators move pollen between flowers, helping plants reproduce. Without pollinators, most plants wouldn’t have seeds, resulting in fewer new plants and making the world a much less vibrant place. Between 75 to 95 percent of all plants need pollinators to reproduce. Each pollinator plays a unique role in their ecosystem, supporting not only the plants, but other animals in those landscapes. Losing pollinators means more than just losing the bees and butterflies, it means losing all these plants, the animals that depend on them, and more. We can’t afford to lose pollinators.
Why are pollinators important?
What exactly do we get from pollinators? A big part of our diets—1/3 of the food we eat wouldn’t make it to our plates if it weren’t for pollinators. Your apples, berries, melons, carrots, onions, peaches, pears, and even your coffee and chocolate are all brought to you by pollinators. There is more than just nutritional value to the food we eat, agricultural economies provide billions (yes billions) of dollars each year to the global economy. Pollinators support both our local and international farmers. They support rural economics and urban economies. Without pollinators we would have empty grocery stores and restaurants wouldn’t have much to serve.
But pollinators do more than just feed us. They support the production of raw materials used in textiles, too. Think about the shirt or pants you are wearing. Plant-based fibers like cotton, linen, and hemp also rely on pollination. As do the raw materials that we use in dyes to make our clothes vibrant. Pollinators help keep use healthy as well—many pharmaceuticals are plant-derived, meaning we wouldn’t be able to heal ourselves without them.
Pollinators also maintain the ecological status quo. They support plants that sequester carbon within the tropical and temperate forests that help the Earth breathe. Pollinators support plant communities that stabilize and improve the soil, and they support wetland plant communities that keep streams and rivers clean. Pollinators also support coastal ecosystems, keeping the vegetation intact and helping to buffer against storms. They do so much for us, now it’s time to do more for them.
What do we know about their status?
Pollinator populations are changing. Many of them are in decline, and this decline is attributed most severely to a loss in feeding and nesting habitats—made worse by the realities of climate change. The climate emergency impacts pollinators disproportionately, affecting their development, changing plant-pollinator phenology (a very fancy way of saying the timing of bloom and pollinator development) and ultimately decoupling their relationships with plants. The impacts of climate change restrict their ranges and alter the nutritional value of their food. Adding on pollution, the overuse of chemicals, pests and disease, and invasive species all contributeing to the shrinking and shifting pollinator populations. Some pollinator species are of conservation concern, including many bumble bees, monarch butterflies, and even some mammals like the lesser long-nosed bat. In some cases, there isn’t enough data to gauge a response, and this is even more worrisome. If we don’t know how much we are losing that’s a scary place to be.
How can you help?
Pollinators need help and we know how to help them! Small steps really do add up to big change. If everyone—consumers, home owners, local governments, national governments, and private industry—made an effort, we could change the future for pollinators and secure our own.
Habitat area counts
Plant for pollinators, no matter where you are. Plant for pollinators in your home garden, in your window box planter, or on your balcony. If you plant it, they will come. Adding natural habitat areas into farm systems also helps farmers, as more pollinators will bring more yield to the table.
Plant the right plants
Plant all the good plants. Make local native plants your first choice, and add wonderful garden plants like lavender, sage, and sunflowers. Make sure you aren’t planting something that shouldn’t be growing in your ecosystem, so double check your choices using our native plant finder.
But don’t stop there!
Spread the word about the importance of pollinators. Don’t keep it a secret, tell your friends and family how important pollinators are, and what we are at risk of losing without them.
Make climate-wise consumer choices! Buying locally- sourced food reduces your carbon impact. Buy produce and products that are certified sustainable for pollinators, like Bee Friendly Farmed products.
Donate to support researchers and conservation biologists at local or national NGOs so that they can help fill in the blanks and develop the tools we need—the more we know the more we can help the pollinators!
Vote for pollinators! Support local and regional policies that support pollinators. Get your hometown registered as a Bee City in the USA and Canada! You might already be living in one, so take advantage of the programs and celebration of pollinators.
If you’re inspired to act now, you can enter your information here and receive our top actionable tips to help protect pollinators with our partners, Pollinator Partnership.
Now get out there to CELEBRATE Pollinator Week!