Plants, Pollinators, and the Price of Almonds

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Wild Pollinators: Where Have all the Wild Things Gone?

A mining bee, a wild pollinator, emerging from its burrow. Photo by Rob Cruickshank

These wild insects are suffering from the same suite of environmental challenges as many other plants and animals.

  • Loss of habitat: Humans take up a lot of space. Farms cover about half the earth’s land base, and we have left our mark on almost the entire planet, leaving fewer and fewer patches of habitat for wild animals, including wild pollinators. Wild pollinators need native plants—flowers and shrubs—to supplement food from crops and sheltered spots to nest.
  • Pollution: Pollinators can be injured by pollution, from cars and industries, as well as pesticides.
  • Climate change: Temperature affects when plants flower and when animals become active in the spring. But so do light levels. With climate change, the world is warming earlier in the spring, but not brightening earlier. There’s a good chance that not all plants and their preferred pollinators will become active at the same time, in which case the pollinators will lose out on food and the plants on pollination.

Pollination and Food Supply: What’s Next?

We probably won’t run out of food anytime soon. But without pollinators, we will notice a change in the price and availability of some of our favorites, such as almonds. Scientists are working on technological fixes, including the growth of self-pollinating almond trees, but they don’t produce as many almonds. In addition, honey bees are responding to new management methods, disease controls, and changes in pesticide licenses (at least in Europe). But we also need to take care of our wild pollinators—we will live much better with them than without them.

Resources

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Pollinator Partnership. What is pollination and who are the pollinators? Accessed April 21, 2013.

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