Words alone will not protect pollinators

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Science  27 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 357
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam6132

IN THEIR POLICY Forum “Ten policies for pollinators” (25 November, p. 975), L. V. Dicks et al. suggest policies that governments should consider to protect pollinators and secure pollination services. Those suggestions were extracted from the 2016 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report (1, 2). In 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing an Interagency Task Force to create a strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators (3, 4). On the surface, these reports and proposals place the United States at the forefront of global efforts to conserve native and managed pollinators. However, current commitments appear to be primarily a rebranding of existing efforts and some shifting of existing pots of money. We have learned through experience that turning proposals into action requires a concerted effort.

We helped write the 2007 National Academy of Sciences report on the Status of Pollinators in North America (5) on the status and trajectory of most North American pollinator populations. Particularly troublesome was the lack of information for the 4000 species of native bees, primary pollinators in most terrestrial ecosystems, both agricultural and natural. Despite the recent IPBES report and the Presidential Memorandum, no statistically robust monitoring programs for native bees have been established, nor has there been an effort to hire the required taxonomic expertise. The dramatic decline of Bombus affinis, which led to its designation in 2017 as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (6), is emblematic of the challenges that pollinators face.

Simple policy and land-use changes at federal, state, and local levels that favor healthy flowering plant communities can have immediate and beneficial impacts on pollinators. The suggestions from Dicks et al. outline many of the options we hope will be widely adopted. We emphasize, however, the need to create the capacity and the initiative within governments worldwide to create the attendant monitoring programs that measure the successes of these changes, warn about and characterize impending system failures, and allow us to learn how to manage diminished pollination capacity. Food security will require this expertise. Bees are not optional.

The rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) was recently declared endangered.



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