Wild Pollinators Are Ailing, Too

The following is a transcription of a sidebar to the article in April 2009 issue of Scientific American:  Saving the Honeybee [see Saving the Honeybee: A Synopsis for information on that article].  To me, the problem of ailing bees is the canary in the mine: warning of a dire future if we don’t pay attention. Our monoculture ag system is at the root of the problem and should be discarded if our planet is to survive.

Refer to the Xerces Society and KQED-QUEST websites for much more information about pollinators, especially the following articles:

Wild Pollinators are Ailing, Too

by Davide Casterlvecchi, Scientific American staff writer

Honeybees are not the only pollinators to have suffered population drops in recent years.  A National rEsearch Council (NRC) report in 2006 pointed to downhill trends in certain species of North American wild pollinators, including some insects but also bats and hummingbirds.  These species may be suffering from some of the same man-made afflictions that make honeybees vulnerable to CCD, such as introduced diseases, pesticide poisoning and impoverished habitats, says the study’s lead author, entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois.

The western bumblebee, for example, has disappeared from a region stretching from central California to British Columbia, probably killed off by Nosema bombi, a single-celled fungus microorganism, according to work by entomologist Robbin Thorp of the university of California, Davis.  The fungus may have ssread to the western bumblebees from European bumblebees that U.S. farmers have imported to assist in the pollination of tomatoes and other crops in greenhouses, he says.

A more recent study published int eh January Biological Conservation looked at historical data from Illinois and found that four bumblebee species disappeared there between 1940 and 1960 — a period that coincided with large-scale agricultural intensification in the state, with consequent loss of prairie, forest and wetland habitats.

Declines in a few species of pollinating bats and hummingbirds — to the point that some bats are at risk of extinction — might relate to habitat changes.  Many of them overwinter in Mexico, and biologists are urging the preservation of “nectar corridors,” where the animals can find flowers along their migration routes.

But biologists can monitor only so many pollinator species (an estimated 200,000 exist worldwide), and not much is known about the state of health for most of them, the NRC report warned.  Several Web-based collaborations call on citizen-scientists’ help.  Volunteers take picture of pollinators and submit them to the Web sites, wehre researchers identify species and take not of where they were seen.

In 2008 the U.S. Congress for the first time modified its agricultural policy to include pollination protection measures, such as setting aside conservation land where wildflowers can grow and provide nectar.  “That was a real landmark,” Berenbaum says.

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