Animal pollinators – bees, wasps, beetles, ants butterflies, birds, and others – perform the essential task of fertilizing plants. Without them, many plant species would decline or disappear, along with their oxygen-producing benefits, their erosion-preventing root systems, and the life-sustaining food they supply. According to the United State Forest Service, nearly 80% of the 1,400 food crops grown around the world rely on pollinators.
The vital importance of pollinators — which fertilize plants by moving pollen, the male sex cells of plants, to female receptors — came to public attention after the winter of 2006-07 when reports from beekeepers documented 30%-90% losses of bee colonies. The main reason was colony collapse disorder (or CCD), where worker bees disappeared from the hive, inexplicably leaving behind the queen, baby bees, honey, and pollen.
Since that time, the rate of bee loss has subsided somewhat but still remains high, with beekeepers reporting losing about a third of their colonies every year. Because bees are the most important pollinators, the world has reason to worry.
Research into the cause of the CCD phenomenon is ongoing, but it appears that there are a number of factors that contribute to pollinator loss. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, factors include: synthetic pesticides; the loss or changes in pollinator habitat; and pests and parasites, including invasive species, that prey on pollinators — and these are the most devastating invasive species in America.
In the case of honey bees, an additional factor may be the stress experienced when bees are transported to distant locations for pollination services.
As scientists continue to study and respond to the causes of pollinator loss, there are things that any one of us can do to protect bees and their pollinating cohorts. As we work to increase pollinator habitat — by keeping toxic materials out of the environment, supporting beekeeping, and advocating for public policies that recognize our dependence on these tiny creatures — we are also protecting ourselves and our food supplies. Bees are the world’s most important pollinators, and, therefore, critical to the world’s food supply — here are 20 crops that will be most affected if honey bees disappeared.