Written by: Keira Dymond.
Pollinators are known to contribute significantly to human wellbeing. They are responsible for about 1/3 of the food we eat, and they are also vital for other wild plant species, thereby helping to maintain the natural environment and functioning ecosystems. It is commonly assumed that most of these pollination services are provided by the honeybee, however, in reality, there is a wide range of pollinators such as bats, birds, flies, wild bees, wasps, and butterflies (to name just a few…). Currently, wild pollinators are responsible for about half of all pollination requirements, and in the future, it is likely that we may become more reliant on these wild species as, in many regions, the demand for insect-pollinated crops is outstripping the supply of managed honeybees.
In addition to simply increasing the number of pollinators available, wild pollinators also provide a range of other benefits.
- Increasing the chance of effective pollinators: Different pollinator species can be efficient pollinators for different plants (e.g. visit flowers more frequently or deposit more pollen), and therefore, wild pollinator diversity increases the chance that an effective pollinator will be present for a specific plant or crop.
- Providing a more comprehensive pollination service: Different pollinator species are active at different times of the year and at different times throughout the day, thereby increasing the likelihood that pollination will occur.
- Creating a more resilient system: A diverse pollinator community provides a more resilient system, as if there are declines in certain species, it is likely that other pollinators will be available to provide the service.
- Providing a more stable pollination service: Wild pollinators are often well adapted to extreme climatic conditions (e.g. strong winds and rain) and can therefore provide a pollination service under a range of different environments and circumstances.
There are however some significant threats to wild pollinators and, across the globe, the abundance and diversity of wild pollinators is thought to be decreasing. Some of the most significant challenges are extensive land-use change and intensive agricultural management as this is often associated with the destruction of natural habitat, on which wild pollinators rely. In order to help support wild pollinators, it is therefore essential that natural habitat is increased. This can be done on a local scale, for example, through wildlife gardening or provide nesting habitat in outdoor areas, or on a larger scale by creating natural habitats for pollinators on farmland or creating and protecting natural reserves.