In honor of National Pollinator Week, June 22 – 28, we’re celebrating the animals that help produce our food and fiber. Pollinators benefit America’s working forests, farms and ranches. By helping plants reproduce, pollinators like bees contribute more than $200 billion each year in ecological services.
Step outside to instantly see and smell the bounty of spring. Hummingbirds zig-zag through warm air to sip nectar from fresh flowers. Bees and butterflies hover over budding farm crops. Even beetles, ants and bats jump into the action, dining on a cornucopia of protein-rich pollen.
In return for a delicious meal those animals help plants reproduce by moving pollen between the male or anther and female or stigma parts of a flower. The act of pollination is the first step in generating seeds that create new plants.
Flowering plants have co-evolved with pollinators to attract specific species. Butterflies are lured toward sweet-smelling red, orange and purple flowers. Flies and beetles are drawn to white or green flowers that smell slightly rotten.
Pollinators add value for people, wildlife
More than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants need a pollinator to reproduce. Humans also need pollinators because most of our food comes from flowering plants. One out of every three bites of our food is created with the help of pollinators – including fruits, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts and spices.
Pollinators are also a key part of the food web. Insects like moths feed more than 80 percent of birds in the United States as well as reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Pollinators contribute to healthy soils and clean water by fostering robust plant communities. Pollinator ecological service is valued at $200 billion each year. That includes their important role in generating more profitable yields on America’s working agricultural lands.
Farmers can reduce pollinator loss
Populations of monarch butterflies have decreased drastically since 1995, in part because of the decrease in native plants like milkweed and other abundant sources of nectar that feed them. The number of those iconic orange-and-black butterflies, renowned for their extraordinary annual migrations, has plummeted from 1 billion to only 34 million in the past 25 years.
More than 4,000 bee species buzz around the United States. Honey bees alone pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants, including more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately bee populations have decreased alarmingly across North America, as have the populations of many other pollinator species. The loss of pollinators is likely due to dwindling habitat along with diseases, parasites and environmental contaminants.
Farmers, ranchers and foresters around the country are helping boost populations of pollinators – and their bottom lines – through a variety of farm-bill-funded conservation practices. Private landowners are working to protect pollinators, mainly through sustainable agricultural practices that go hand-in-hand with healthy habitat for wildlife.
A recent study from Montana State University found that rangelands enrolled in rest-rotation grazing through the USDA-National Resources Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative produced better habitat for native pollinators than pastures with no livestock grazing. Through the 2018 farm bill the USDA offers dozens of conservation activities that benefit both pollinators and producers by generating healthy valuable plants and habitats.