The Real Reason We Need Pollinators


Most kinds of animal activism involve us humans giving something up. We need to quit eating meat, or quit bulldozing forests, or stop construction to protect an endangered species. But pollinators are the exact opposite. We humans depend on them. In ways big and small, pollinators direct life on Earth. Below are three answers to common questions we get about honey bees and pollination.

Why are pollinators so important to the ecosystem? 

This article from ScienceDirect by Katumo et al. gets at a few key answers: 

“Research indicates that in natural ecosystems, pollinator diversity enhances pollination during environmental and climatic perturbations, thus alleviating pollen limitation… Furthermore, studies indicate that many pollinator groups are useful in monitoring environmental pollution, aid in pest and disease control, and provide cultural and aesthetic value…”

In less-sciencey terms: pollinators keep plants growing when nothing else can. When weather, disease, pollution, and infestations threaten to wipe out a plant species, pollinators help it reproduce. And before you say “it’s just a plant!”, remember that everything eats something. The whole food chain can fall apart because of one broken link. All too often, pollinators are that link.

Why are pollinators important to humans?

The importance of pollinators in agriculture can’t be overstated. Many of our favorite fruits, nuts and vegetables wouldn’t grow without them. Many more would still grow, but in much smaller quantities. That means higher prices and empty shelves at the grocery store. To quote Katumo et al. again:

“Pollinators...provide multiple essential ecosystem services but are declining rapidly in this changing world…a high abundance of managed bee pollinators, such as honeybees (Apis mellifera), may be sufficient to provide pollination services for crop productivity, and sociological studies indicate that the majority of farmers worldwide do not recognize the contribution of wild pollinator diversity to agricultural yield… the conservation of pollinator diversity must expand beyond bee conservation.”

All that to say: even farmers, whose livelihood often depends on pollinators, don’t appreciate all that pollinators do. From their perspective, it makes more sense to use pesticides and monocropping practices, both of which can harm pollinators. Our campaign to spread awareness and conservation still has a long way to go.

Katumo et al. also make it clear: bees and beekeepers aren’t enough. Local Hive Honey is here to support American beekeepers everywhere in the U.S., many of whom make a living by trucking their hives full of bees from one farm to the next. Pollination-as-a-service helps boost crop yields, but it doesn’t address the overall ecosystem. 

Supporting pollinators means protecting wild pollinators like bees, wasps, birds, and butterflies, too. These diverse species of pollinators enhance genetic diversity among plants, which helps ensure their long-term survival.

How much pollination is done by bees?

Let’s break this question down. It’s important to remember there are, broadly speaking, two kinds of bees:

  • Honey bees: apis mellifera, the ones that live in hives and make honey
  • Wild bees: various species that live in all kinds of nests and don’t (really) make honey

 And there are, even more broadly speaking, two kinds of pollination:

  • Wild pollination: when insects and animals forage on flowers and coincidentally help plants reproduce
  • Pollination services: when beekeepers truck their bees to farms and set them free to forage and pollinate as they please

Wild bees do a huge portion of the total pollination happening out there in the wild. They subsist almost entirely on plant nectar, so anywhere they live, there’s likely to be plenty of pollination happening. These various species are critical to nearly every ecosystem. When you hear someone talking about “saving the bees,” they mean wild bees, not honey bees.

Honey bees basically don’t exist in the wild in the U.S. Sure, you’ll hear reports of bee nests cropping up in the woods – or even in someone’s house! – but these wild honey bees are few and far between. Often, they’re rescued by a professional beekeeper and moved into a hive where they can be closely monitored. But, for every hive of wild honeybees out there, that’s 10,000+ hungry mouths hunting for nectar. You can bet they’re pollinating plenty.

As you can imagine, those two sources of pollination are difficult to measure. But a few stats can put it in perspective:

  • More than 85% of the world’s flowering plants, including two-thirds of crop species, require pollination to reproduce.
  • In the U.S., more than 100 crops need or benefit from pollinators.
  • The economic value of these native (wild) pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S.

Meanwhile, honey bees spend quite a bit of their time foraging on farmland, boosting crop yields along the way. These pollination services are a bit easier to measure. The nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership estimates the value of these additional crops at $15 billion every year.

Supporting pollinators is a complex and evolving mission, involving people in fields from agriculture, business, academia, to government. But no matter who you are, you can play a role, too. Our pollinators, and American beekeepers who support them, need your help.

To learn more, a few major pollinator conservation efforts include:

  • PACE (Pollinator Awareness Through Conservation and Education), which we directly support with proceeds from every bottle of Local Hive Honey
  • The Xerces Society
  • The USDA Pollinator Workgroup, which publishes an annual Pollinator Priorities Report

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