Insect Pollination

Insect pollination is also known as ‘entomophily’, which describes the pollination process whereby pollen is transferred from one flower to another by insects.

It’s estimated that over 84% of crops in Europe are dependent upon insect pollination.

Insects are vital not only to the ecosystem, but also to global food supply for humans.

I have already written about bee pollination here.

But what about the role of other insect pollinators?

In my page about flower pollination, you can read how flowers are adapted to attract their ideal pollinators (pollination syndromes).

Beetles and flies, for instance, pollinate a very broad range of flowers, and some species may even visit plants that emit a foul stench that would deter other pollinators from visiting!

Butterflies and moths, like bees, are attracted to sweet, delicate fragrances. Moths are important pollinators of night scented flowers such as evening scented stocks.

How Much Is Insect Pollination Worth?

Attempts have been made to put a financial value on insect pollination.  However, ascribing a value to insect pollination is not easy.  When we get hung up on finances, I fear we get worryingly close to 'appreciating the price of everything and the value of nothing'. I feel we tend to see things in light of how much they are directly relevant to humans, whilst ignoring the much wider value, and the interconnectedness of the great web of life on earth. 

Anyway, in October 2010, the United Nations released a report: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, in which insect pollination was valued at £134 billion (153bn Euros). Of course, the role of pollinators is priceless, but due to the society we live in, it seems just about everything is categorized and measured in terms of financial assets.

Indeed, the author of the report, Pavan Sukhdev, made this comment, which is unfortunately the truth:

"Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice. And that is part of the problem - because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it."

Therefore, it is no surprise that unfortunately, the natural world should have to be assigned its supposed “monetary value”, simply in order for some sectors of society to appreciate it, even though perhaps it could be said that too many humans don’t fully understand the natural world yet!

This is proven by the fact, that scientists are forever making new discoveries, even about the comparatively well-researched honey bee!

Thus, it is ironic and unfortunate that we should have to attempt to assign financial value to the natural world, when we know so little about it!

We Probably Don't Know Enough About Insect Pollinators

It is well known that bees are efficient pollinators of flowers and plants. However, I came across an interesting comment about pollinators in a book, “Bumblebees Behaviour and Ecology” by Professor Dave Goulson, citing Corbet et al 1991 & Williams 1995. It said:

“…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".

In light of the widely reported demise in insect populations, this is a worrying thought. It means we do not fully understand the consequences of losing different pollinator species.

The Status And Decline of Insect Pollinators: Some Random Statistics

In Europe:
- 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).

We Need to Act to Help Insect Pollinators

Various government initiatives have been launched across the world to address and investigate pollinator decline.

In the meantime, it is very important that people understand where their food comes from, and its dependence on the eco system that enabled the food to be put on their plates.

If people lose this understanding, this can lead us to take man's most precious helpers in nature for granted. The result can be (and I feel, has been), the ignorant abuse and disregard of other living species, that in the end is detrimental to mankind too.

We Can All Help!
We can all help, by supporting pollinator conservation initiatives, and growing plants and flowers for pollinators. Think twice before using pesticides, and take a look at these 10 tips to help save the bees, many of which will be beneficial to insects and insect pollination as a whole.  You can also ask your council to get involved.