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.
Plants have developed pollination syndromes to attract their ideal pollinators. 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).
Attempts have been made to put a financial value on insect pollination. However, ascribing a value is not easy. Various research reports have been published with findings as follows:
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. Read more about honey bee pollination.
However, increasingly, wild bees are being studied, and some species such as leafcutters are now known to be very efficient pollinators of alfalfa, 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.
- It is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination. (source: Buglife)
- Across Europe 38% of bee and hoverfly species are in decline, and only 12% are increasing. (source: Buglife)
- 24% of Europe's bumblebees are believed to be facing extinction according to one report.
In the USA:
- 57 species of bees are on Red List – these are species that are seriously endangered or believed extinct. (Source: Xerces)
- 58 butterflies & moths are also on the US Red List. (Source: Xerces).
In the UK:
- Two thirds of UK moth species are in long term decline. (source: Buglife)
- “Lost” (possibly extinct) insect species include (among others): Bordered gothic moth (Heliophobus reticulata marginosa); Orange upperwing moth (Jodia croceago); Brighton wainscot moth (Oria musculosa) (source: Buglife)
- Over 75% of the 59 UK butterflies are declining and 5 species have become extinct. (source: Butterfly Conservation)
- 3 species of bumblebee have become extinct, and of the remaining 24 species, 2 are critically endangered, and 10 are in very serious decline. This includes 5 species that were common in the 1980s. (source: Bumblebee Conservation Trust).
(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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