Pollinators 101

Who and what are pollinators?

Pollinators are our bees, insects, birds, and other animals that move pollen from one flower to another - effectively fertilizing plants, allowing them to reproduce. Native pollinators are those species that are native to a specific region.

For example, native, or “wild”, bees are distinct from managed bees, which were introduced to North America and are kept today for their honey, beeswax, and pollination services. The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the primary managed pollinator in the U.S. today.

Though bees are the most common group of pollinators, other insects and animals, including wasps, butterflies, flies, beetles, bats, and hummingbirds, are significant pollinators as well.

Why are pollinators important?

Pollinators are imperative to the production of agriculture.

Approximately 30 percent of the food and fiber crops grown throughout the world depend upon pollinators for reproduction. The fruits and seeds from these crop species provide 15 to 30 percent of the foods and beverages consumed by humans. Roughly translated, approximately one out of every four mouthfuls of food and drink that we consume are produced from pollination services provided by pollinators.

The U.S. grows over 100 crop plants that are pollinated by insects and animals. Primary examples include almonds, apples, pears, citrus fruits, cherries, pumpkins, cucumbers, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, melons, tomatoes, soybeans and sunflowers.

An estimated 15 percent of the combined value of U.S fruit, nut, vegetable and field crop production can be attributed to pollination services provided by native bees. Pollination services are provided by both managed and native pollinators. Commercial honey bee producers providing pollination services manage several hundred to as many as 80,000 hives.

Why are native pollinators important?

Native pollinators provide important pollination services for crops like alfalfa, melons, cranberries, blueberries, soybeans, and sunflowers.

Recent significant declines in populations of managed and native bees and other pollinators pose a real threat to production agriculture that could result in billions of dollars of economic losses to the sector and the national economy.

Native bees can’t replace managed bees, but they do represent a significant part of the overall pollination process for the nation’s agricultural and horticultural crops, particularly in providing an “insurance policy” of additional pollination services when honey bee populations are low. If the beekeeping industry continues to have trouble because of pests and diseases, native bees can fill in when managed honey bees are in short supply or are too expensive to import. Thus, native pollinators serve as a buffer against pollinator losses.

How to protect & promote native pollinators

Many simple and relatively inexpensive practices for pollinator conservation are available. Opportunities exist to “piggy back” pollinator protection efforts with integrated pest management and conservation initiatives designed to protect soil, water, and air quality and enhance wildlife habitat.

The dramatic decline in pollinator populations is a critical issue for production agriculture, but it is not yet on the top priority list for many agricultural organizations. Many growers are not aware of how significant the contribution of native pollinators is to the production of their crops and farm profitability.

What can you do?

Learn, understand and grow! Understanding who your Oregon pollinators are, and what makes a happy habitat for them is the first step and you're already on your way! Growing and/or maintaining spaces that facilitate healthy environments for native pollinators in particular, will ensure pollinator populations will have a place to reproduce, transfer pollen, and consume correctly to stay alive and well.

Oregon Wildlife Foundation is campaigning for Oregon's native pollinators this spring on behalf of Pollinator Parkways. Learn more about this conservation project, donate, or volunteer here.

Sources & Images: Native Pollinators Agricultural Project, Bee & Bloom, Pollinator Parkways

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