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The Importance of Pollinators

Updated: May 17

During the COVID-19 summer months, I raised monarch butterflies. I did this for three reasons: 1) I love nature, 2) they need help, and 3) it was a good way to use my time during the quarantine. Though monarch butterflies were not put on the Federal endangered species list in 2020, it truly looks like they will be on the list within the next 20 years, and here’s why. For over 40 years National Geographic and other notable research journals have published numerous articles detailing the habitats and migration patterns of the monarch butterfly throughout Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Their research shows that eastern monarch populations (overwintering in Mexico) have declined 80%, while western monarchs (overwintering in California), have declined by almost 99%.

The demise of the monarch is primarily due to the loss of milkweed and habitat—milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars can live on. The reason monarchs are important is they are like the ‘canary in the coal mine.’ If they can’t survive, this is an indicator that other pollinators are already, or soon will be, on the decline. Bees, for example, are critically important pollinators; some variations are already extinct, many are on the decline. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we cannot live without bees. The USDA estimates that pollinators like bees and butterflies help pollinate approximately 75% of the world's flowering plants. They pollinate roughly 35% of the world's food crops—including fruits and vegetables. Albert Einstein said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live."

China Morning Post states, “an estimated 80% of China's native Honey Bee population has been lost since the introduction of European honey bees in the 19th century” (ref. PlanetBee.org). Currently, due to China's low labor costs, many farmers in rural-underdeveloped provinces are now pollinating their crops by hand. Other regions in the US are resorting to the use of mobile bee hives, enabling the local flowering crops to be pollinated. Needless to say, this is not where we want to be in the future.

Bees and monarchs are not the only pollinators to worry about. USDA research indicates that during the past 30‑plus years, our nation's pollinator populations have suffered serious losses due to invasive pests and diseases, such as mites, viral and fungal pathogens, exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, loss of habitat, loss of species and genetic diversity, and changing climate. Other vulnerable pollinators are bats, moths, bumble bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, flies, and beetles.

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