Pollinators Get a National Strategy to Restore Their Health

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Small bees that don’t bother or sting us can remain unstudied despite their abundance. 

Small bees that don’t bother or sting us can remain unstudied despite their abundance. Our eyes can’t resolve the differences in
Small bees that don’t bother or sting us can remain unstudied despite their abundance. Our eyes can’t resolve the differences in bees as small as these 2-5mm Old World Minibees, thus their identification become microscrope work for the specialist. Small bees can effectively use (and therefore pollinate) small flowers and it doesn’t take that much pollen to raise a Minibee’s young. Thus, across the world, the density of small bees often greatly exceeds that of that large bees we more often study. So small is the unidentified Kyrgyzstani specimen seen here that it had to be glued to the side of an insect pin that is normally placed through the body of a bee to hold it in place. The lovely wing patterns seen here are called “Wing Interference Patterns” and are created by the varying thicknesses of this insect’s thin wing membranes. Macrophotography Picture by USGS bee researcher Sam Droege.

For 250 million years, pollinators have been the planet’s invisible workforce sustaining terrestrial life on our planet without any compensation but pollen and nectar. But some pollinators are in serious decline in the United States and worldwide. Without the assistance ofnative and managed pollinators, most terrestrial life on this planet could not be adequately supported because plants would not be able to reproduce.

Pollinating bat. Courtesy Ami Pate, National Park Service
Pollinating bat. Courtesy Ami Pate, National Park Service

Preventing continued losses of our country’s pollinators requires immediate national attention. Consequently, today President Obama rolled out the National Pollinator Health Strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators, including native bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and other insects.  Read a blog by Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, about the importance of the new pollinator strategy.

USGS and the Interior Department are instrumental components of the strategy. DOI manages about 500 million acres - or one-fifth of the surface land of the United States -- which offers tremendous opportunities for the conservation of pollinators in North America.  On June 16, 2014, Secretary Jewell signed the National Pollinator Week Proclamation, acknowledging the importance of pollinators and scientific research; the proclamation calls on the American public to join DOI in recognizing the value pollinators play in healthy ecosystems.

Buzz on Over to USGS’s New Pollinator Science Website

Today, USGS is also rolling out our own pollinator science webpage. USGS researchers have been studying some pollinators for decades, now our science can help underpin the development of scientifically based policies to reverse pollinator losses and restore pollinator populations to healthy levels.

The National Pollinator Health Strategywill promote the health of honey bees, native bees and other pollinators

Why are Pollinators Important?

Do you enjoy a hot cup of coffee, a juicy peach, an-apple-a-day, almonds, rich and creamy dates, a handful of plump cashews, or vine-ripened, sun-kissed plump tomatoes?  Do you enjoy seeing the native flowers and plants that make your part of the country home?

If so, you depend on pollinators.

Wherever flowering plants flourish, pollinating bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other animals are hard at work, providing vital but often-unnoticed services. Some three-fourths of all native plants in the world require pollination by an animal, most often an insect, and most often a native bee. Pollinators, usually honey bees, are also responsible for one in every three bites of food you take, and increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than 15 billion dollars.

Unabated, loss of pollinators threaten agricultural production, the maintenance of natural plant communities, and the important services provided by those ecosystems, such as carbon cycling, flood and erosion control, and recreation.  Without the pollinators providing the transportation of pollen from flower to flower, about 75 percent of all native North American plants could gradually become extinct as they lose the ability to reproduce.

Image: Female Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
A female broad-tailed hummingbird visiting a flower near the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado. Photo by David Inouye

The Science of Pollinators

The Strategy’s Pollinator Research Action Plan will improve our understanding of the individual and cumulative effect of stressors and the ways they influence overall pollinator health. The research component of the Strategy focuses on population trends and basic biology; environmental stressors, especially pests, disease and pesticides; ways to offset or lessen these stressors; and habitat restoration of areas with the greatest potential for pollinators.

Pollinator declines are often driven by factors that occur on a global scale (e.g., migration, aquatic transport of pesticides, invasive species, climate change) and are of sufficient urgency to compel many nations, including the United States, to cooperate in global research activities.

While the importance of a healthy pollinator population to agriculture is clear, pollinators are just as important to sustaining functioning ecosystems and the food supply for wildlife.  The USGS works to provide the science decision-makers need to support pollinator conservation. We work closely with our federal, state, and other partners to model and better understand pollinator habitats and habitat requirements. We’re also conducting inventories of native bees and other pollinators in protected areas, forests and other land types throughout the United States. We are pioneering genetic studies of bees to better track where they’ve been and what plants they’ve visited and/or pollinated.

The USGS pollinator-science portfolio includes studies on ecosystems, population ecology, movement ecology, conservation genetics, ecosystem services, fire ecology, toxics and pesticides.

Image:  USGS Bee Research in North Dakota
The USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center partners with professional beekeepers in North Dakota to evaluate what plant species honey bees forage on and when. Photo by Marisa Lubeck, USGS

You are Needed

While our nation is a mosaic of land uses and ownerships, pollinating animals do not recognize human-drawn boundaries. They make use of food and habitat anywhere it is found, whether on national park land, a roadside strip, the edge of an agricultural field, or a schoolyard garden or your yard. Therefore, pollinator habitat can be enhanced on land regardless of whether or not it is federally owned.

Get the Pollinator Partnership’s free app on how to be a pollinator-smart gardener. Listen to a podcast by USGS bee scientist Sam Droege about how you can lend a hand to native bees.

LINKS:

National Pollinator Health Strategy

USGS Pollinator Research

Bees are Not Optional: USGS scientist and “beehead” Sam Droege talks about the tremendous importance of native bees and pollinators in general, and how you can lend a hand to these tiny titans.

The Buzz on Native Bees Blog: Ecosystems – whether agricultural, urban, or natural – depend on pollinators, great and small.

Pollinator Partnership: The Pollinator Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization-- the largest organization in the world dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC): NAPPC is a collaborative body of more than 120 diverse partners, including USGS and the Department of the Interior. Scientists, researchers, conservationists, government officials and dedicated volunteers are engaging in major programs to protect pollinators, to raise pollinator-related issues, and to benefit the health of all pollinators.

Monarch Joint Venture: The Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs that are working together to support and coordinate efforts to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 United States.  USGS is a member of the Venture.