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3021Re: Relative importance of pollinators

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  • Mitchell,Randall J
    Nov 16, 2013
      I agree that answering Crystal's question about relative importance of pollinator groups properly will require much more context and precision. But I think that misses the real question - what can we tell an interested and concerned public audience about the importance of the big 4 pollinator groups in general, so they have some tools to think about a topic that is new to them.

      For example, the '3 out of 4 bites depend on a pollinator' statement is very commonly used, and although it obviously depends on a number of general assumptions, it helps to put the issue into a context the public can understand. (the best estimate I know of is a bit higher - 87%: Ollerton, J., R. Winfree, et al. (2011). "How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals?" Oikos 120: 321-326.)

      When talking about this topic in public a forum I often point out that for crops, 71 of the top 100 crops depend mostly on bees (Nabhan, G. P. and S. L. Buchmann (1997). Services provided by pollinators. Nature's services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems. G. C. Daily. Washington, DC, Island Press: 133-150.).
      Although this statement doesn't directly apply to wild plants, it gives a flavor of relative importance in one context, and lets the conversation move on to pollinators and the challenges they face in general.

      I think that providing a more technically correct answer than this slightly vague approach is not yet possible.
      Using pollination syndromes to infer the most effective pollinator has many difficulties, though it may provide another broad-brush starting point.
      Directly measuring the dependence on each potential pollinator of each plant is an enormous and difficult task (as pointed out by others in this thread), and doing so for all the species in a community (or larger area, such as a state) would be orders of magnitude harder. Meta-analysis of studies from different communities might eventually be useful - I don't know of any to date.

      For now, I think case studies and anecdotes will probably have to do, but might actually be enough for Crystal's audience.

      Randy Mitchell
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