Updated: 1st March 2021
Insect pollination is also known as ‘entomophily’, which describes the
pollination process whereby pollen is transferred from one flower to another by insects.
Insects are vital not only to the ecosystem, but also to global food supply for humans. I have already written about bee pollination here.
Insect pollinators include:
When visiting flowers, pollen sticks on to the body and legs of the insect. The pollen is then transferred from the male parts of a flower to female parts, enabling pollination to take place. Read more about the process of pollination.
Depending on insect species (or indeed bird or animal pollinators - bats and hummingbirds, for example, are known to pollinate flowers), plants have various characteristics that will attract the target pollinator. They are known as pollination syndromes. These may include:
In my page about flower pollination, you can read more about how flowers are adapted to attract their ideal pollinators (pollination syndromes).
It's clear that insect pollination is vital for landscape and habitat diversity. Many plants, flowers and trees depend on insects to create seeds and fruits (from apples to various wild hips, nuts and berries) upon which humans and wildlife depend.
However, when considering the value of insect pollination, usually it is only the economic benefit to humans that guide the calculations.
Attempts have been made to put a financial value on insect pollination, but ascribing a value is not easy. Various research reports have been published with findings as follows:
"....economic dependence of United States crops on insect-mediated pollination service at the county level and update existing coefficients of insect dependence of sample crops when possible. Economic value dependent on pollination service totals 34.0 billion USD in 2012. "
"The total economic value of pollination worldwide amounted to €153 billion, which represented 9.5% of the value of the world agricultural production used for human food in 2005."
Many insects play a role in pollinating crops, but also flowers, trees, shrubs and hedgerows.
Bees are the mostly widely understood pollinators, and honey bees have long received recognition for the pollination service they provide. Honey bees are essential for pollinating crops like almonds. Read more about honey bee pollination.
However, increasingly, wild bees are being studied. Some species such as leafcutters are now known to be very efficient pollinators of alfalfa, and mason bee species are helpful in orchards, whilst bumble bees are valued for their ability to increase tomato yields.
Still, the extent of the contribution from other insects is still not fully understood.
“…in Europe, a region better studied
than most, about 250 plant species are grown as crops. Of these, about
150 are thought to be insect pollinated, but for most we do not know
which insects pollinate them, or whether yields are being limited by
inadequate pollination". - “Bumblebees Behaviour and Ecology” by Professor Dave Goulson, citing Corbet et al 1991 & Williams 1995.
In the USA:
In the UK:
(1) Economic Dependence and Vulnerability of United States Agricultural Sector on Insect-Mediated Pollination Service; Environmental Science & Technology 2021 55 (4), 2243-2253; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04786.
(2) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted to pollinator decline; Gallai, Nicola & Salles, Jean-Michel & Settele, Josef & Vaissière, Bernard. (2009). . Ecological Economics. 68. 810-821. 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.06.014.
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