Twelve Scientists Propose Ten Policies to Protect Pollinators

by Besame –

honey bee 2

In response to the United Nations’ global study on pollinator status, twelve scientists from universities around the world have outlined ten policies to protect pollinators. Earlier this year, the U.N. confirmed that pollinator populations are declining in North American and western Europe, and that urgent studies are needed to fill in data gaps here and elsewhere in the world. The status of pollinators outside these two regions can’t be determined due to lack of adequate information. This is no small issue for humans, although pollinators like bees, wasps, flies, moths, butterflies, and bats are important to all habitats and wildlife. Even orcas depend on pollinators.

Three-quarters of the world’s food crops benefit from pollinators and ironically one primary threat to pollinators is the agriculture that produces our food. Pollinator health is a worldwide issue that extends across national boundaries. Avocados, chocolate, coffee and vanilla come from outside the U.S. and other nations depend on the income from production and export of these foods. It’s more than money and food because habitats define and protect the landscape. For example, estuaries and marshes help control floods while healthy rivers and streams connect salmon to the land. Riparian forests shade water and protect salmon spawning grounds and upland forests promote rainfall saturation of the soil and limit erosion that damages spawning habitat. Ocean animals like orcas in the Pacific Northwest depend on the salmon to survive, thus orcas need healthy terrestrial habitats and the habitats need pollinators.

Twelve scientists published an article yesterday in Science, Ten policies for pollinators (behind a paywall; here’s a free article about the study), outlining measures needed to protect pollinators. They note that these policies are not the only possible responses but are those with the greatest chance of success because they align with international policy objectives and strategies. Programs to benefit pollinators already exist in the U.S., Canada and much of western Europe. For example, the USDA is promoting habitat enrichment programs on farms and France proposes to ban neonictinoids, a type of pesticide known to harm bees.

The 10 policies fall into four types of actions: risk reduction; sustainable farming; biodiversity and ecosystem services; and increasing knowledge.



The biggest risk to pollinators that already has some degree of regulation is pesticide use. These regulations are not applied evenly within nations and globally. Some nations do not have national pesticide regulations. Worldwide, we lack adequate knowledge of effects to all pollinators, not just to honeybees. Pollinators benefit from Integrated Pest Management. This system reduces pesticide use by combining pest monitoring and non-chemical pest control measures such as crop rotation and biological control.

We already know that genetically-modified (GM) crops pose risks to pollinators indirectly as these crops are designed to tolerate high doses of herbicides. The result is loss of plants pollinators use, including weedy margins along the edges of croplands. Potential other risks to pollinators from GM crops need more research.

GM crop risk assessments in most countries do not capture [consequences for pollinators]. They evaluate only direct effects of acute exposure to proteins expressed in the GM plants, usually in terms of the dose that kills 50% of adults (LD50), and only for honey bees, not other pollinators.

Managed pollinators now include bumblebees as well as honeybees but little research has been done on the consequences. Do the bumblebees move out from the target crops and establish new populations as invasive species? What are the risks of disease transmission from honeybees and bumblebees to the native pollinators they encounter? Regulating movement of these bees within and between countries is essential to limiting harmful impacts.


Diversified farming systems already exist: organic farms, home gardens, agroforestry, mixed cropping, and some livestock management systems. These incorporate hedgerows, native plants, intercropping, and other pollinator-friendly practices such as limiting large acreages of monocultures. Government support for these farming systems is needed, such as financial incentives and assistance in transitioning from monoculture. Indigenous and local knowledge must be respected by ensuring their food sovereignty rights.

[Food sovereignty] asserts that people must reclaim their power in the food system by rebuilding the relationships between people and the land, and between food providers and those who eat. First framed by the international peasant movement La Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in 1996, food sovereignty is rooted in the ongoing global struggles over control of food, land, water, and livelihoods.


Although pollinator and habitat diversity is important and threatened species deserve protection, the bulk of crop pollination depends on relatively few, common, widespread species. These common pollinators, however, need habitat diversity and connectivity with enough flower and nesting habitat. Perhaps the pollinator wasp nests in burrows in grasslands. The croplands must be close enough to these grasslands. Green infrastructure is the mosaic of these habitats distributed throughout the agricultural landscape that allows the pollinators to thrive and still be nearby to pollinate the crops. This requires a combination of protected public lands and payments to private landowners for protection and enhancement of habitats.


The U.N. study identified major knowledge gaps about overall pollinator status outside North America and western Europe. Widespread monitoring is needed outside these regions, and longterm studies are needed everywhere. Most studies focus on short-term and local effects. Another unknown is how to promote pollinators while maintaining or increasing crop yields. More than 80 percent of farms and farmers, and 8 to 16 percent of farmed land are considered small farms (under 2 hectares). Globally, productivity and food security already are high priorities. Scientists, farmers, stakeholders, and policy-makers must cooperate to determine credible, reliable, and salient practices for food production that support pollinator health.


People, livelihoods, habitats, wildlife and all the ecosystem functions like erosion and flood control are threatened when pollinators are threatened. While these ten policies are the work for government and the agricultural industry, you, too, are important. Pollinators in peril: will you help? here’s how relates some of the problems facing pollinators that individuals can address. The bees and flies a Pacific Northwest garden supports are connected to the maples and willows shading the spawning grounds of salmon. People protect orcas with their pollinator friendly gardens.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos