Did you know that you can thank pollinators for one out of every three bites of food you eat?
You probably didn't know. In which case you probably aren't thinking much about how your daily life affects the health of those pollinators — that wide array of beneficial species responsible for some of the most crucial links in the whole world's food chain.
So hear this: Pollinators may be our planet's most ecologically and economically important group of animals. They provide stability for every terrestrial ecosystem in the world, because wild flowering plants depend on these native bees, flies, butterflies, beetles, moths, bats, birds and other animals to reproduce. Other wildlife then eat the fruits and seeds that result from pollination, spreading the seeds that in turn give rise to future generations of plants. Most of the world's other wildlife (including insects) — and more than 250,000 wild flowering plants — need native pollinators to exist.
And of course that's not counting us humans. Significant portions of the world's human food supply rely on the health of native pollinator populations — particularly those of bees, one of the main groups of pollinators. But despite pollinators' vast importance, amazing diversity and frightening imperilment, these special creatures are often overlooked and misunderstood. Many people simply don't comprehend or appreciate the complex ecology of wild plant reproduction.
And perhaps most importantly, we don't sufficiently value native pollinators, whose health is imperative to the health of every natural ecosystem on every continent. The Center works to protect these ecosystems and all the species they harbor — including those that help enable them to function: native pollinators.
Here are some more pollinator facts you may not know: Many wild plants have evolved specifically to be pollinated only by beetles, or only by hummingbirds. There are more than 20,000 species of bees described globally, and more than 4,000 of them are native to North America. This includes 46 species of bumblebees north of Mexico — and this doesn't even account for solitary bees, which are more common than either honeybees or bumblebees. Want even more tidbits? Check out our native pollinator factsheet.
The Center's Native Pollinators campaign ties together modern domestic land-use issues in the context of pollinator conservation to provide relevant information and action opportunities to supporters who are rightfully concerned about the health of native pollinators. While working to elevate appreciation of pollinators, we're also seeking protections for individual pollinator species and their habitats. We're addressing each habitat threat (outlined below) on an individual basis, though it's important to note that all these threats act synergistically, increasing the damage that any one threat might do on its own. And compounding all these threats is the overarching menace of climate change.
The Center has taken strong positions against the use of dangerous pesticides — perhaps the biggest threat to pollinators — by filing a series of lawsuits to force greater safeguards for federally protected wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has registered for use more than 18,000 pesticides, and more than 2 billion pounds of pesticides are sold annually in the United States, many of which have been shown to disorient and kill bees at levels far below those officially accepted by EPA. Our Pesticides Reduction campaign holds the EPA accountable for pesticides it registers for public use and works to cancel or restrict the use of harmful pesticides within endangered species' habitats.
But the threats of industrial agriculture to native pollinators extend far beyond the use of dangerous pesticides. Here are some others:
Monocropping — the planting of the same crop on huge tracts of land year after year — is one of the biggest threats to pollinators besides pesticides, as it significantly degrades pollinator habitat. It negates the consistent availability of a diversity of pollen and nectar throughout the year, since thousands of acres of land are converted to support a single crop, which may only flower a few weeks each year. A lack of native flowers for pollinators to forage upon — as well as a lack of natural areas throughout agricultural land where native bees can nest in loose soil and holes in dead trees — leads to an increased dependence on the honeybee as a pollinator. This isn't good, because honeybees aren't native to North America and compete with native bees for resources.
Cattle grazing on public lands compress soils where bees nest. Cows trample and consume considerable amounts of vegetation on public lands in America's West, unnaturally converting riparian areas and wetlands (certain pollinators' natural habitats) to grasslands.
This is a bigger threat to plants and insects than one might imagine: Vegetation destroyed and soil is compressed — meanwhile, excessive dust from ORVs clogs the stigmas of nearby wildflowers, reducing reproductive success and floral resource availability for pollinators.
Salvage logging not only removes important wildlife habitat, but it also compacts soils where native bees nest, slows the regeneration of native vegetation upon which native pollinators forage and introduces invasive plant species.
Sprawl is constantly encroaching on the habitats of wild animals, and while indeed a bee has an easier time in the city than a bear, there are endless threats associated with human expansion: associated industrial growth and agriculture, habitat fragmentation, and overall less healthy nesting and forage habitats.
Though many people don't realize it, their own gardens can also be hazards to pollinators. See our Gardening Guide for useful tips to keep your garden naturally messy, chemical free and full of a diverse array of native plants.