Something Is Picking Off The Pollinators

As we freak out about our collapsing colonies of honeybees, Brandon Keim shares the bad news that their wild cousins are also in trouble, along with other insects that plants depend on for pollination:

According to a recent survey organized by the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group, nearly one-third of North American bumblebee species are declining. Other studies have reported similar trends, documenting dramatic declines in once-common species such as the American bumblebee. If that’s happening to bumblebees, says Xerces Society executive director Scott Black, it’s quite possible, even likely, that others are hurting, too.

“There’s very little information status on most of the bees other than bumblebees, but if you look at the life histories of these groups, many are likely even more sensitive to the disturbances leading to the declines, such as pesticides and habitat loss,” Black said. “Although we don’t know what’s going on with all bees, I think we could be seeing real problems.”

Among other pollinators, iconic monarch butterfly declines are well documented: Their numbers are now at a small fraction of historical levels. And entomologist Art Shapiro of the University of California, Davis spent most of the last four decades counting butterflies across central California, and found declines in every region. These declines don’t just involve butterflies that require very specific habitats or food sources, and might be expected to be fragile, but so-called generalist species thought to be highly adaptable. Many other entomologists have told Black the same thing.