A hoverfly feeding on nectar from a sunflower inflorescence.

Valuing our Pollinators

Pollination is a vital service provided by a plethora of animals, including honeybees, bumble bees, and other insects, as well as some birds and mammals. Many of our food crops rely on animal pollinators to produce large yields. Therefore, the loss of pollinators such as bees will have profound implications for the global agri-food sector, with consumer nations such as Ireland particularly vulnerable.

A three tier dish covered in many fruits, both exotic and local. All of the fruits are insect pollinated.
A selection of of insect-pollinated crops commonly sold in supermarkets.
The agri-food and drink sector in Ireland accounts for 7.2% of the goods and services produced by Ireland’s economy and 12.3% of Ireland’s exports (source: DAFM). The horticultural industry alone produces >€380 million worth of fruit and vegetables annually, including many common insect-pollinated crops such as apples, strawberries and raspberries. However, this only represents a small proportion of total demand and as a result we import >€1 billion worth of fruit and vegetables each year (source: CSO). Many of these are pollinator-dependent crops (e.g. oranges, peaches, pears etc.) and therefore the global loss of insect pollinators is predicted to have a profound impact on our local economy.

aran_islands_wild_flowers.jpg
A meadow in Inis Mór (Aran Islands, Ireland) with a selection of wild flowers.
In addition to the market values of pollinators, we also appreciate them for their intrinsic value and for the ecosystem services they provide. They play a vital role in maintaining plant community structure and for the propagation of wild species, thus maintaining healthy biodiversity in our landscapes. For example, the celebrated landscapes of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, which attract visitors from all over the world for their beauty, depend on pollinators to support a rich variety of wild flowers.

This globalised, interconnected world in which we live means that a holistic approach must be taken in order to protect vulnerable pollinator species. By understanding how interconnected and dependent we are on pollinators, not just in an ecological sense but also from a global, economic perspective, we can better understand the impacts of pollinator losses and enact integrated policies to halt their decline. In this way, we will be able to continue to enjoy the fruits of their labours for generations to come!

Dr. James Murphy (@jmurphyscience) is working on a 2 year EPA-funded research project POLLIVAL (@pollivaltcd) with Prof Jane Stout in Trinity College Dublin. The aim of the project is to assess the market and non-market values of insect pollinators and to estimate the costs to the Irish economy of continuing pollinator declines.

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