Wildlife & Biodiversity

Pollinator Week: Why we need to protect the bees and the butterflies

Around 40% of invertebrate pollinator species — particularly bees and butterflies — face extinction across the world, warns FAO

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Thursday 25 June 2020

More than 180,000 plant species, including 1,200 crop varieties, across the world depend on pollinators to reproduce. But the little creatures, like the bees and the butterflies, have increasingly been under threat. This is a week for them.

There are two categories of pollinators: invertebrates and vertebrates. Well-known invertebrate pollinators include bees, moths, flies, wasps, beetles and butterflies. Monkeys, rodents, lemurs, tree squirrels and birds also facilitate pollination and are among the vertebrate pollinators.

There are 150,000 species across the world who visit flowers, of which bees, being dominant pollinators, account for 25,000-30,000 species, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Pollinator Week (June 22-28) was initiated by non-profit Pollinator Partnership and the United States’ Senate in 2007.

Decline in numbers

Around 40 per cent of invertebrate pollinator species — particularly bees and butterflies — face extinction across the world, according to the FAO.

In India, wild honeybees of the genus Apis — including the Asian bee (A cerana) and the little bee (A florea) — declined steadily for the past 30 years, said Pollinators Unknown: People’s perception of native bees in an agrarian district of West Bengal, India, and its implication in conservation, a 2017 study.

Nearly 168 bees died every day due to poor waste management, pointed out Decline in honey bee population in southern India: Role of disposable paper cups, a 2014 study. Overall, 35,211 bees died every month, the study said.

The US saw a decline in its bee population as well: In 2017, there were 2.88 million honey bee colonies, a 12 per cent dip from the 3.28 million colonies in the country in 2012, according to the FAO.

Similarly, around 16.5 per cent of vertebrate pollinators are threatened with extinction, according to the FAO.

Of these, 45 species of bats, 36 species of non-flying mammals, 26 species of hummingbirds, seven species of sunbirds and 70 species of passerine birds, face extinction, according to the FAO’s rapid assessment on pollinators’ status.

Major causes for the decline

There are several causes for the decline in the number of pollinators. Most of them are the result of an increase in human activities:

  • Land-use change and fragmentation
  • Changes in agricultural practices including use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and insecticides
  • Change in the cropping pattern and crops like the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and mono-cropping
  • High environmental pollution from heavy metals and nitrogen
  • Growth of invasive alien species

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