President Obama recently launched perhaps the most ambitious national plan ever aimed at protecting insects. The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators calls for an “all hands on deck” approach to slow their alarming declines. “Pollinators are critical to our nation’s economy, food security and environmental health,” notes the plan, prepared by the White House Pollinator Health Task Force.
“It’s an important wake-up call,” says Berry Brosi, an Emory biologist and ecologist whose research encompasses both managed honeybees and wild bees. “It’s past time for us to realize the vital links between biodiversity, our environment and our own well-being. Ultimately, that’s what this national plan is about.”
Honeybee pollination alone is worth more than $15 billion to U.S. agriculture, “providing the backbone to ensuring our diets are plentiful with fruits, nuts and vegetables,” the plan states. “Pollinators, most often honeybees, are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take.”
“This isn’t about saving an exotic animal in a faraway place, like the panda,” Brosi says. “We’re talking about the possibility of not having nuts and fruits for our breakfast, shortages of tomatoes and melons, and rising milk prices due to a lack of alfalfa pollination.”
Bees are important to more than just food crops, he adds. Cotton plants, for example, need pollination to produce the fibers that are a cornerstone of the garment industry.