|Bee & Strawberry Blossom|
This week marks the beginning of a new series in which we will consider the implications that these and other agricultural inputs have had on our environment and the life it supports, examining not only the plight of our crucial pollinator populations, but also that of a variety of other beneficial members of our ecosystem, such as songbirds, moths, butterflies, and insects. Along the way, we will also consider what these inputs mean for human health. In this first article, we begin by looking at pollinators and other “beneficials,” exploring their services and ultimately addressing why we should be concerned about their imperilment. The second and third articles will consider wildlife habitats and the implications wrought by the use of neonicotinoids and glyphosate. Throughout this discussion, we will bring in existing research on these inputs--focusing on a selection of both American and European-led studies. Safety trials and testing will be the focus of the fourth article. After considering the U.S.’s tendency to forego basing its actions on the precautionary principle, we’ll also discuss the extent to which the environmental and health implications of neonicotinoids and glyphosate have been scrutinized. Lastly, in the fifth and final article, we’ll bring everything together and consider the numerous short- and long-term obstacles our North American pollinator and other wildlife populations are facing, as well as examples of localized action (such as Portland’s City Council’s recent success in passing an ordinance banning the use of neonicotinoids) aimed at protecting these vital members of the earth’s environment. By the end of this series, it is our hope that we will have contributed in some way to your understanding of this most pressing issue.
|Butterfly & Bee with Echinacea Flower|
In addition to pollination, bees and other wildlife provide an array of beneficial services to the environment and, by extension, to humans. As Nabhan and Buchmann have noted, over the course of any given day these members of our ecosystem “collect and redistribute foodstuffs, then scatter their nitrogen-rich waste products” over the landscape. Insects in particular play a critical role in the biogeochemical cycling of these and other nutrients--aerating the soil, improving tilth, and enhancing water retention capacities. Dung beetles, for instance, have been introduced into agricultural landscapes across parts of Hawaii, Australia, and the southern U.S. due to their valuable contributions to manure decomposition. Meanwhile, bats and birds provide seed dispersal services while also acting as population regulators, consuming multitudes of insects that are often considered pests. Bats in particular have gained an increasing amount of recognition for these services, as interesting research has emerged from the University of Michigan detailing the huge benefit they have had on organic coffee reservations in Mexico. Taking advantage of what is essentially a free service, Harmony Valley Farm maintains a woody barrier of willows in between many of our fields. These willows provide—among other things—a habitat for birds, which then assist us in managing flea beetles and other common agricultural pests. The Xerces Society reports that such integrated pest management techniques have been given a combined value of US $4.5 billion per year. And finally (but by no means exhaustively) these animals also serve as integral parts of various cultures, work to control erosion and regulate climate, and offer myriad opportunities for recreational activities (see Wojcik).
|Bee enjoying a melon flower|
Part 2 of the series can be found here: http://www.harmonyvalleyfarm.blogspot.com/2015/06/silent-spring-part-2-rise-of.html
Code, A. (2015, April 1). Portland bans insecticides linked with pollinator declines. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Retrieved from
Holdren, J.P. (2015, May 19). Announcing new steps to promote pollinator health. Office of Science and Technology. Retrieved from /https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/05/19/announcing-new-steps-promote-pollinator-health
Jepsen, S., Schweitzer, D.F., Young, B., Sears, N., Ormes, M., & Hoffman Black, S. (2015, March). Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NatureServe-Xerces_monarchs_USFS-final.pdf
Moisset, B., & Buchmann, S. (2011, March). Bee basics: An Introduction to Our Native bees. Retrieved from /http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5306468.pdf
Nabhan, G.P., & Buchmann, S.L. (1997). Services provided by pollinators. In G.C. Daily (Ed.), Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural ecosystems (pp. 133-150). Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
Southwick, E.E., & Southwick, L. (1989). Estimating the economic value of honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) as agricultural pollinators in the United States. Economic Entomology, 85(3), 621-633.
University of Michigan. (2008, April 7). Bats play a major role in plant protection. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080403140921.htm
Wojcik, V. (2013). Pollinators 101. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://pollinator.org/nappc/PDFs/4-%20Vicki%20Wojcik-2.pdf