Insect pollinators and sustainable agriculture
Underestimation of the pivotal role played by managed and native insect pollinators is a key constraint to the sustainability of contemporary agricultural practices. The economic value of such insects to pollination, seed set, and fruit formation greatly outweighs that suggested by more conventional indices, such as the value of honey and wax produced by honeybees. Although the European honeybee has been widely regarded as the single most important pollinating species, the increasing spread of trachael and Varroa mites and Africanized bees threatens the distribution and magnitude of traditional honeybeekeeping enterprises in North America. A number of other bee and insect pollinators, such as orchard bees, bumblebees, and squash bees, which are not affected by either the mites or the Africanized bees, are considered as likely candidates for management and use in commercial agriculture. An additional role can be played by native or wild pollinators, provided that attention is given to curtailing of population losses caused by both inadvertent insecticide poisoning and habitat destruction. To ensure a reliable source of pollinators, both managed and native, a more comprehensive strategy for management of crop pollination is needed. Elements of this strategy include an increased understanding of the biology and ecology of pollinating insects, as well as providing appropriate nesting habitat, and ensuring the availability of alternative sources of “forage” to sustain populations when the target crops are not in bloom. Examples are discussed to illustrate how private initiatives and changes to public policy can enhance pollinator habitat, and ultimately, agricultural productivity.