Why are pollinators important? (PLUS 5 ways to help protect them!)
Why are pollinators important? What's driving their endangerment and extinction, and what can we do to help protect them?
These are the questions I explore here. See below for additional resources and subscribe to Green Dreamer on YouTube to stay posted on my latest learning lessons!
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 40% of our invertebrate pollinator species (and 16% of vertebrate pollinator species) at threat of extinction.
Our current extinction rates are one-hundred to one-thousand times the natural background rate of extinction due to human impact, earning this time period the title of the “sixth mass extinction.” This should already be a huge red flag for everybody on planet earth.
But knowing that many of our pollinator species are endangered as well calls for immediate, drastic action from policymakers and citizens alike.
Why our pollinators are so important:
Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning their existence are critical to the balance and health of their bioregional ecosystems.
75% of our food crop types depend on the help of pollinators.
1/3 of our food were brought to us by pollinators.
50% of our vegetable oils, fibers, and raw materials depend on pollinators.
Pollinators support the proliferation of more plants and vegetation, thus helping to prevent erosion and make lands more resistant to droughts (as lands with healthy, native plants are more porous and are able to hold more water).
“Even if it rains a lot, even if it's flooding, on a good piece of land that has plants growing on it, you're going to get runoff that is clear most of the time.” –Finian Makepeace of Kiss the Ground in its Soil Advocate Training.
Over the past 500 million years, on average, we get about 60 feet of erosion every million years. In parts of the United States where soil is eroded by extractive agricultural activity, the rate averages around 1,500 feet per million years. This rate is even higher in other parts of the world. “Natural processes operate over areas larger than those affected by agriculture and construction, but even taking that into account… we move about 10 times as much sediment as all natural processes put together.” (Science Daily, 2004)
By supporting the reproduction and growth of plants, leading to more photosynthesis and carbon dioxide drawn out of the atmosphere, pollinators indirectly help us to mitigate climate change.
What is threatening our pollinators:
Changes in land use (e.g., deforestation, turning native habitats into development projects)
Intensive agriculture that is extractive by nature and degrades our soils
The use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals on our farms
The spread of disease enabled by globalization
Climate change and extreme weather events
5 ways we can help protect our pollinators:
Grow more native, pollinator-friendly flowering plants.
Whether you have a balcony, window sill, small patch of land, or a large garden, learn from your local botanical gardens or plant nurseries about what flowering plants are native to your bioregion and nurture some of your own!
Find out what plants are native to you with:
Support the reduction of chemical and pesticide-use in agriculture.
If you have access to and can afford organic foods, buy your produce from local farmers that practice organic and even regenerative agriculture.
Search for farms and CSAs near you with Local Harvest.
Support responsible, local beekeepers by purchasing local honey directly from them, and if you don't eat honey or want to help in additional ways, get involved with and support nonprofits dedicated to protecting our native habitats and pollinators
Reduce our overall environmental impact, carbon emissions, and contribution to air pollution.
Tell our government representatives that we'd like for them to support policies that protect our pollinators.
Summary of key action areas:
Grow more native, pollinator-friendly flowering plants;
Support organic and regenerative agriculture;
Support local beekeepers and nonprofits focusing on conserving our pollinators;
Lessen our individual environmental impact, carbon emissions and air pollution;
Engage politicians and tell them to help protect our pollinators.