Pollinators, People, and Policies


Lay summary by Rachael Bonoan


Butterflies, bees, and other insect pollinators provide invaluable services to both society and the economy. Globally, insect pollinators are responsible for production of about 50% of the crops we eat, and contribute €153 billion to the economy annually. Without insect pollinators, our diet would consist of mostly corn, wheat, and rice products.

Unfortunately, saying goodbye to nutritious fruits and vegetables is closer than we may think. Bumble bee populations have declined 30% since the 1870s, honey bee populations have declined 50% since the 1940s and monarch butterfly populations have declined 80% since the early 1990s!

Pollinator decline also threatens rural and industrial development. Without insect pollinators, crop farms cannot exist. Lastly, pollinator decline can lead to a depletion of biodiversity in general. Less pollinators in the wild leads to less flowering plants.

There are various factors that contribute to pollinator decline and many are likely to interact. Scientists have narrowed these factors down to four main drivers: habitat loss, agricultural and grazing practices, pesticide use, and the introduction of invasive species. Understanding these drivers can lead to governmental pollinator-protection policies.

The U.S. White House recently announced the appointment of a Pollinator Health Task Force that will work to develop an action plan that resonates with state, local, industry, and citizen groups. For this collaborative plan to be effective, everyone must agree on why pollinators are important and which driver to target.

To determine how different groups view the why and which of various pollinator-related policies in the EU, Outi Ratamäki and colleagues surveyed various groups via interviews and workshops. The researchers analyzed survey answers and found that pollination policies in the EU are so diverse that they may not always be effective; different policies put different pressures on different levels of society.

At the local level, people are concerned with the loss of pollination services rather than the loss of the pollinators themselves — people are worried about food security and losing the social and cultural practices of farming. Despite local concerns, most EU policies focus on biodiversity, stressing conservation of pollinators rather than the services they provide.

This mismatch in priorities becomes a problem when the government focuses on conserving pollinator diversity at a forest edge, where many wild pollinators nest, rather than pollinator diversity on a farm. Despite this mismatch, it is possible to create policies that satisfy both interests. For example, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development provides financial compensation to farmers that raise crops using biodiversity-beneficial measures, such as organic farming.

In the end, Ratamäki et al. conclude that to generate effective policies that satisfy the interests of all levels of society, we must better understand the drivers involved in pollinator decline as well as social and cultural norms.

For further information

Read the Ecosystem Services original research article which this summary is based on A multilevel analysis on pollination-related policies (January 2015).

Visit the profile of the research ambassador, Rachael Bonoan, who wrote this summary.

STM Digest is a collection of lay summaries published next to original research articles on ScienceDirect, provided free of charge, and accessible to everyone.

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