But it's not just honeybees that are in trouble. Many wild
pollinators-thousands of species of bees and butterflies and moths-are also
threatened. Their decline would affect not only our food supply, but our
landscapes, too. Most honeybees live in commercially managed agricultural
colonies; wild pollinators are caretakers of our everyday surroundings.
"Almost 90 percent of the world's flowering species require insects or other
animals for pollination," said ecologist Laura Burkle of Montana State
University. "That's a lot of plants that need these adorable creatures for
reproduction. And if we don't have those plants, we have a pretty
Compared to honeybees, wild pollinators are not well studied, and their
condition has received relatively little public attention. Most people don'
t realize that there are thousands of bee species in the United States. Even
many butterflies are overlooked, with the plight of just a few species,
particularly monarchs, widely recognized.
'Species that used to be in all our yards are dropping out.'
Wild bees and butterflies are out on the landscape, making them difficult to
count, and a lack of historical baselines makes it challenging to detect
long-term trends. Slowly but surely, though, results from field studies and
anecdotal reports from experts are piling up. They don't paint a pretty
picture. Many pollinator populations seem to be dwindling.
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
"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
"Species that used to be in all our yards are dropping out, but nobody's
monitoring them," Black said.