The Potential Consequences of Pollinator Declines on the Conservation of Biodiversity and Stability of Food Crop Yields


Gordon Allen-Wardell, BeeMaster, Inc., 1665, E. 18th St., #209, Tucson, AZ 85719, U.S.A.
Peter Bernhardt, Department of Biology, St. Louis University, 3507, LaClede, St. Louis, MO 63101-2010, U.S.A.
Ron Bitner, International Pollination Systems, 16645, Plum Rd., Caldwell, ID 83605, U.S.A.
Alberto Burquez, Instituto de Ecologia, Unam, Apartado Postal Hermosilo, Sonora 83000, Mexico
Stephen Buchmann, USDA/ARS, 2000, E. Allen Rd., Tucson, AZ 85719, U.S.A.
James Cane, USDA/ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5310, U.S.A.
Paul Allen Cox, National Tropical Botanical Garden, P.O. Box Lawai, Kauai, HI 96765, U.S.A.
Virginia Dalton, Science Department, Pima College West, Desert Vista, 5901, South Calle Santa Cruz, Tucson, AZ 85709-6000, U.S.A.
Peter Feinsinger, Department of Biology, Northern University University, 5315, N. Copeland, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, U.S.A.
Mrill Ingram, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2101, North Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743, U.S.A.
David Inouye, Department of Sustainable Development, Conservation Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, U.S.A.
C. Eugene Jones, Department of Biological Services, California State University at Fullerton, Fullerton, CA 92813, U.S.A.
Kathryn Kennedy, U.S. Fish, Wildlife Service, 17011, Burnet Rd., Suite 200, Austin, TX 78716, U.S.A.
Peter Kevan, Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada
Harold Koopowitz, Department of Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717, U.S.A.
Rodrigo Medellin, Instituto de Ecologia, Unam, Ciudad Universitaria, Apartado Postal 70-275 D.F., 04510, Mexico
Sergio Medellin-Morales, Terra Nostra, Apartado Postal Victoria, Tamaulipas 887040, Mexico
Gary, Paul Nabhan, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021, North Kinney, Tucson, AZ 85743, U.S.A.
Bruce Pavlik, Department of Biology, Mills College, Oakland, CA 94610, U.S.A.
Vincent Tepedino, USDA/ARS, Bee Biology and Systematics Lab., Utah State Univesity, Logan, UT 84322-5310, U.S.A.
Phillip Torchio, USDA/ARS, Bee Biology and Systematics Lab., Utah State University, Logan, UT 84321, U. S. A.
Steve Walker, Bat Conservation International, 500 North Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, TX, U.S.A.

Endorsers: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Bat Conservation International, Committee for Sustainable Agriculture, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, International Pollination Systems, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, National Wildflower Research Center, Seacology Foundation, Society for Conservation Biology, Society for Ecological Restoration, Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute, Terra Nostra, A.C., University of Maryland Department of Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology

In a continuing effort to address contemporary conservation issues in a scholarly and rigorous fashion, the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology in 1997 approved a process by which a series of Commissioned Papers will be developed and published. Drawing on the Articles of Incorporation of SCB, which charge the Society to “disseminate scientific, technical, and management information through meetings, publications, and other media” and to “advance and articulate the Society’s position on matters of public policy,” this process is intended to formulate SCB positions on difficult issues relevant to the scientific basis for conservation. Those positions are made clear and explicit through publication of Commissioned Papers in this journal and may be used by the Society officers, Board of Governors, and members to guide activities of the society, synthesize and communicate the findings of conservation biology to the interested public, and inform decision makers of the Society’s scientific insights into issues relevant to public policy. The authority for such papers arises from the bylaws of the Society, which authorize the Policy and Resolutions Committee to develop “positions for the Society on issues related to conservation biology or policy issues where the scientific or management expertise of the Society will be of value” and to adopt “a protocol for the development of position statements and position papers.” Details of the process by which such papers are developed and approved by the Society were published in the SCB newsletter of November 1997 (Vol. 4, No. 4) and should be sought for further details.

In this, the first SCB Commissioned Paper, Gary Paul Nabhan and co-authors address an emerging and critically important issue: worldwide pollinator declines and their possible consequences for biodiversity conservation and agricultural stability. We plan to follow this with several Commissioned Papers each year on a broad scope of topics in an ongoing effort to clearly formulate SCB positions and influence public policy. The President and Board of Governors welcome suggestions from members for appropriate topics and will seek member input in writing these papers.

Following reports of dramatic declines in managed and feral honey bees from nearly every region of North America, scientists and resource managers from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada came together to review the quality of the evidence that honey bees as well as other pollinators are in long-term decline and to consider the potential consequences of these losses on the conservation of biodiversity and the stability of the yield of food crops. These experts in pollination ecology confirmed that the last 5 years of losses of honeybee colonies in North America leave us with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the last 50 years and that the management and protection of wild pollinators is an issue of paramount importance to our food supply system. Although there are conclusive data that indicate 1200 wild vertebrate pollinators may be at risk, data on the status of most invertebrate species that act as pollination agents is lacking. The recommendations from a working group of over 20 field scientists, presented here, have been endorsed by 14 conservation and sustainable agriculture organizations, research institutes, and professional societies, including the Society for Conservation Biology. Among the most critical priorities for future research and conservation of pollinator species are (1) increased attention to invertebrate systematics, monitoring, and reintroduction as part of critical habitat management and restoration plans; (2) multi-year assessments of the lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides, herbicides, and habitat fragmentation on wild pollinator populations in and near croplands; (3) inclusion of the monitoring of seed and fruit set and floral visitation rates in endangered plant management and recovery plans; (4) inclusion of habitat needs for critically-important pollinators in the critical habitat designations for endangered plants; (5) identification and protection of floral reserves near roost sites along the “nectar corridors” of threatened migratory pollinators; and (6) investment in the restoration and management of a diversity of pollinators and their habitats adjacent to croplands in order to stabilize or improve crop yields. The work group encourages increased education and training to ensure that both the lay public and resource managers understand that pollination is one of the most important ecological services provided to agriculture through the responsible management and protection of wildland habitats and their populations of pollen-vectoring animals and nectar-producing plants.

Consecuencias Potenciales de la Disminución de Polinizadores en la Conservación de la Biodiversidad y la Estabilidad en la Producción de Cosechas de Alimentos

Debido a los constantes reportes de disminuciones dramáticas de abejas productoras de miel tanto manejadas como silvestres en casi todas las regiones de Norteamérica, científicos y manejadores de recursos de Estados Unidos, México y Canada se reunieron para revisar la calidad de las evidencias de que las abejas, así como otros polinizadores se encuentran en una disminución a largo plazo y para considerer las consecuencias potenciales de estas pérdidas en la conservación de la biodiversidad y la estabilidad de las cosechas de alimentos. Estos expertos en ecología de la polinización confirmaron que los últimos cinco años de pérdidas de colonias de abejas en Norteamérica nos ubican con menos polinizadores manejados que en ningún otro momento en los últimos 50 años y que el manejo y protección de polinizadores silvestres es un aspecto de suma importancia para nuestro sistema de abastecimiento de alimentos. A pesar de que existen datos concluyentes que indican que 1200 polinizadores vertebrados silvestres podrían encontrarse en riesgo, se carece de datos sobre la situación de la mayoría de las especies de invertebrados que actúan como polinizadores. Las recomendaciones de un grupo de trabajo de mas de 20 científicos, presentadas aquí, han sido respaldadas por 14 organizaciones de conservación y agricultura sustentable, institutos de investigación y sociedades de profesionistas incluyendo la Sociedad para la Biología de la Conservación. Entre las prioridades mas críticas de investigación y conservación de especies de polinizadores se encuentran; 1) incrementar el enfoque en sistemática de invertebrados, monitoreo y reintroducción como parte del manejo de hábitat crítico y planes de restauración; 2) evaluaciones de varios años de los efectos letales y subletales de pesticidas, herbicidas y la fragmentación del hábitat en las poblaciones silvestres de polinizadores dentro y alrededor de las tierras de cosechas; 3) inclusión del monitoreo de semillas y frutas y las tasas de visita en los planes de manejo y recuperación de plantas; 4) inclusión de las necesidades de hábitat para polinizadores críticamente importates en las designaciones de hábitat crítico para plantas amenazadas; 5) identificatión y protección de reservas florales cerca de sitios de percha a lo largo de “corredores de nectar” de polinizadores migratorios amenazados; y 6) inversión en la investigación y manejo de una diversidad de polinizadores y sus hábitats adyacentes a sitios con cosechas para poder estabilizar e improvisar la produccion de las cosechas. El grupo de trabajo hace un llamado para estimular un incremento en educación y entrenamiento para asegurar que tanto el público como los manejadores de recursos entiendan que la polinización es uno de los servicios ecológicos mas importantes aportados a la agricultura a través del manejo responsable y la protección de hábitats silvestres y de sus poblaciones de animales vectores de polen y plantas productoras de nectar.