The value of pollinators

Pollination is a valuable service provided by both managed bees and wild native bees. Bee pollination is essential to produce fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices, stimulants (such as coffee), and edible oils (such as sunflower and canola). Estimates of the economic contribution of pollination vary widely, but a 2009 estimated that the contribution of pollination to the world economy is approximately $170 billion annually [1]. Looking at only US data, a 2012 report found that pollination contributes over $15 billion/year to the US economy [2].

In New York, many important, high-value crops are dependent on pollinators for successful production. Some of these crops include: apple ($250 million/year), squash and pumpkin ($74 million/year), tomatoes ($47 million/year), strawberries ($7 million/year), cherries ($3 million/year), and pears ($2.5 million/year) [3].

 

a honey bee pollinates an apple blossom

Threats to pollinators

Pesticides are an integral part of conventional agriculture. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides help maximize crop quantity and quality by reducing the pests and diseases that cause damage. Unfortunately, non-target organisms such as pollinators can come in contact with these pesticides while foraging. In addition, beekeepers also apply pesticides to their colonies to control for Varroa mites.

Research is beginning to show that some pesticides are harmful for pollinators. They can have negative effects at the individual level (such as mortality, foraging or learning), the sub-individual level (such as gene expression or physiology) or even the colony level (such as colony growth, overwintering or honey production).

Certain fungicides are emerging as being harmful to bee health. As of Sept 15, 2015, there are 184 fungicide products registered for use in New York. While foraging, bees can come in contact with fungicides that are sprayed on orchards and in other landscapes. To date, fungicide residues have been detected in pollen, bee bread, wax and honey in bee hives and nests [6-9]. In fact, next to miticides applied by beekeepers to control varroa, residues in hive materials are predominantly fungicides [10]. Despite the prevalence of fungicide use in conventional agriculture, scientific research is only beginning to uncover how they may affect wild and managed bees.

  1. Gallai, N., Salles, J.-M., Settele, J., & Vaissière, B. E. (2009). Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics, 68(3), 810–821. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.06.014

  2. Calderone, N. W. (2012). Insect Pollinated Crops, Insect Pollinators and US Agriculture: Trend Analysis of Aggregate Data for the Period 1992–2009. PLOS ONE, 7(5), e37235. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037235

  3. NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. https://agriculture.ny.gov/

  4. White, E. L., Schlesinger, M. D., & Howard, T. G. (2022, June 30). The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey (2017-2021). New York Natural Heritage Program. https://www.nynhp.org/projects/pollinators/

  5. Bee Informed Partnership. (2022). National Management Survey Map. https://research.beeinformed.org/loss-map/

  6. Kubik, M., Nowacki, J., Pidek, A., Warakomska, Z., Michalczuk, L., Goszczyñski, W., & Dwuzpnik, B. (2000). Residues of captan (contact) and difenoconazole (systemic) fungicides in bee products from an apple orchard. Apidologie, 31(4), 531–541. https://doi.org/10.1051/apido:2000144

  7. Simon-Delso, N., San Martin, G., Bruneau, E., Minsart, L.-A., Mouret, C., & Hautier, L. (2014). Honeybee Colony Disorder in Crop Areas: The Role of Pesticides and Viruses. PLOS ONE, 9(7), e103073. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103073

  8. Pettis, J. S., Lichtenberg, E. M., Andree, M., Stitzinger, J., Rose, R., & vanEngelsdorp, D. (2013). Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae. PLOS ONE, 8(7), e70182. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0070182

  9. Sanchez-Bayo, F., & Goka, K. (2014). Pesticide Residues and Bees – A Risk Assessment. PLOS ONE, 9(4), e94482. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094482

  10. Mullin, C. A., Frazier, M., Frazier, J. L., Ashcraft, S., Simonds, R., vanEngelsdorp, D., & Pettis, J. S. (2010). High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health. PLOS ONE, 5(3), e9754. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0009754