The other Economist article I wanted to mention deals with bats and how useful they are to agriculture, as pollinators (e.g. Agave) and – the main point of the piece – as predators of agricultural pests. Work in Texas is actually trying to quantify the benefit that bats bring to famers of cotton and other crops as they munch their way through moth populations in their millions. Always good to be able to put $ values on biodiversity.
If you had any doubts about the value of pollinators, this should help to dispel them. An article about the lengths that apiarists in Alaska go to to ensure a good supply of bees each spring.
A forthcoming Science paper by Charles W. Whitfield, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and othersÂ looks at the evolution of the honey-bee, Apis mellifera. EurekAlert has a summary and some pithy quotes from the author here. SNPs revealed that the honey-bee originated in Africa and then spread to Europe in two waves, resulting in genetically-distinct though nearly sympatric populations there. No word on whether these migrations could be related to human movements in any way, at least not in the summary.
The National Research Council in the US has published a report on the importance of pollinators for crop production funded by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, National Academies and the Research Council’s Division on Earth and Life Studies and requested by The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, representing agencies and organizations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. According to this story, “the report pointed out that in order to bear fruit, three-quarters of all flowering plants — including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel — rely on pollinators for fertilization” and “a decline in pollinators may spell trouble for crops.” Well alrighty then. Among the recommendations:
- the Agriculture Department should increase research into pest management and bee breeding practices
- long-term studies must be done on the populations of wild bee species and some butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, and the United States should collaborate with Canada and Mexico to form a network of long-term monitoring projects
- landowners should take simple steps to make habitats more “pollinator friendly,” for instance by growing native plants