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Causes and Extent of Declines among Native North American Invertebrate Pollinators: Detection, Evidence, and Consequences

James H Cane, USDA-ARS
Vincent J Tepedino, USDA-ARS


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Ecosystem health and agricultural wealth in North America depend on a particular invertebrate fauna to deliver pollination services. Extensive losses in pollinator guilds and communities can disrupt ecosystem integrity, a circumstance that today forces most farmers to rely on honey bees for much fruit and seed production. Are North America's invertebrate pollinator faunas already widely diminished or currently threatened by human activities? How would we know, what are the spatiotemporal scales for detection, and which anthropogenic factors are responsible? Answers to these questions were considered by participants in a workshop sponsored by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in October of 1999, and these questions form the nucleus for the papers in this special issue. Several contributors critically interpret the evidence for declines of bee and fly pollinators, the pollination deficits that should ensue, and their economic costs. Spatiotemporal unruliness in pollinator numbers, particularly bees, is shown to hinder our current insights, highlighting the need for refined survey and sampling designs. At the same time, two remarkable studies clearly show the long-term persistence of members of complex bee communities. Other authors offer new perspectives on habitat fragmentation and global warming as drivers of pollinator declines. Bees and lepidopterans are contrasted in terms of their natural genetic variation and their consequent resilience in the face of population declines. Overall, many ecologists and conservation biologists have not fully appreciated the daunting challenges that accompany sampling designs, taxonomy, and the natural history of bees, flies, and other invertebrate pollinators, a circumstance that must be remedied if we are to reliably monitor invertebrate pollinator populations and respond to their declines with effective conservation measures.

Key words

Apiformes, Apoidea, Insecta, conservation, diversity, land-use change, native invertebrate pollinators, North America, pollination, pollinator declines

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087