Background

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators affect all of us. The food that we eat, such as fruits and vegetables, directly relies on pollinators. A world without pollinators would equal a world without food diversity – no blueberries, coffee, chocolate, cucumbers and so much more.

They not only help ensure the abundance of fruits, nuts, and seeds, but also their variety and quality, which is crucial for human nutrition. Beyond food, pollinators also contribute directly to medicines, biofuels, fibers like cotton and linen, and construction materials.  

The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if animal pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within the ecosystem would collapse.

Pollination is therefore a keystone process, in both human managed and natural terrestrial ecosystems. It is critical for food production and human livelihoods and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems.

A need for a diversity of pollinators

Most of the 25,000 to 30,000 species of bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) are effective pollinators, and together with moths, flies, wasps, beetles, and butterflies, they make up the majority of pollinating species. But the diversity of pollinators and pollination systems is striking.

Indeed, there are also vertebrate pollinators, including bats, non-flying mammals (such as several species of monkey, rodents, lemur, tree squirrels, olingo, and kinkajou) and birds (hummingbirds, sunbirds, honeycreepers and some parrot species).

Current understanding of the pollination process shows that, while specific relationships exist between plants and their pollinators, healthy pollination services are best ensured by an abundance and diversity of pollinators.

Adapting to changing climates

A diverse assemblage of pollinators, with different traits and responses to ambient conditions, is also one of the best ways to minimize risks due to climate change.  Their diversity ensures that there are effective pollinators not just for current conditions, but for future conditions as well. As a result of biodiversity, resilience can therefore be built in agroecosystems.

However, pollinators face main challenges today, from intensive agriculture, pesticides, to climate change. 

A pollination crisis

Recognizing the dimensions of the pollination crisis and its links to biodiversity and human livelihoods, the Convention on Biological Diversity has made the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators a priority. In 2000, the International Pollinator Initiative (IPI) was established (COP decision V/5, section II) at the Fifth Conference of Parties (COP V) as a cross-cutting initiative to promote coordinated action worldwide to:

  • Monitor pollinator decline, its causes and its impact on pollination services;
  • Address the lack of taxonomic information on pollinators;
  • Assess the economic value of pollination and the economic impact of the decline of pollination services; and
  • Promote the conservation and the restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems.

Caring for bees and other pollinators is part of the fight against world hunger

In agroecosystems, pollinators are essential for orchard, horticultural and forage production, as well as the production of seed for many root and fiber crops. Pollinators such as bees, birds, and bats affect 35 percent of the world's crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines.