Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saving Native Pollinators

This afternoon I attended a webinar given by Ted Leischner who has been a commercial beekeeper and is now actively involved in monitoring and communicating about native pollinator species. To the right you can see one of his slides (used by permission) highlighting the importance of bumblebees.

The webinar, entitled "What Happens When the Honey Bees Disappear," was organized by the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (

About 75% of the 240,000 species of flowering plants on earth need pollen transfer services from animals to ensure their survival. The equation is a simple one: no pollinators = no fruits and vegetables for we humans. As animal pollinators disappear, so will the plant species that depend on their pollination services.

In agriculture we have come to depend increasingly on commercially managed honey bees to pollinate major crops like almonds, apples, blueberries, canola and peaches. But as Leischner pointed out, honey bees are in trouble. Due to Colony Collapse Disorder and the inroads of Varroa mites and other parasites and pathogens, over 30% of honey bee colonies are being lost each year. So "what happens," Leischner asks, "when the honey bees disappear?"

His answer is simple and direct. We have to be prepared to depend more on native pollinating insects, mostly various species of bees, for help in sustaining earth's ecology and the security of our own food supply. Unfortunately, native pollinators are under pressure and experiencing decline themselves. The 2007, multidisciplinary report on the Status of Pollinators in North America ( concluded that many pollinators are in decline and discussed the causes and consequences. The biggest culprits seem to be industrialized, monocultural agriculture and the loss of habitat and food resources everywhere.

Leischner wants us to start now by learning more about native pollinators and their needs. Then we can begin to reverse their decline by providing the habitat and flowering plant resources native pollinators need to survive. Helping them is not only helping the ecosystem, it is helping ourselves as well.

In all of this, bumblebees play a key role. Some species are clearly endangered, threatened with extinction, both in North America and Europe. Bumblebees are major players in the production of human food. They participate in the pollination of some 50 species of crop plants ( Along with the rest of the native pollinators, we need the bumblebee.

You can get in touch with Ted Leischner at or 250-499-9471.

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