Globally, the notion of an “insect apocalypse” has spread from the conservation science community to the general public as one of the clearest signs of ecosystem collapse. Native pollinators in particular face many challenges in the modern world: habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators.
The analysis carried out in Pollinators in peril by Kelsey Kopec & Lori Ann Burd showed that “more than 50 percent of native bee species for which sufficient data is available are declining, while 24 percent are in serious peril”.
According to a proposed rule released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bumblebee species’ population has dropped by nearly 90 percent and could qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The growth of the bumblebee trade for agricultural pollination since the 1980s has been identified as one of the top emerging environmental issues likely to affect global diversity.
A good example is the European bumblebee Bombus terrestris, which has rapidly invaded the southern part of South America after being repeatedly introduced in Chile for crop pollination since 1997.
According to a new study published in the journal Science, over the past four decades, more than 450 butterfly species have declined at an average rate of nearly 2 percent a year. The monarch butterfly has been decreasing towards extinction due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and global climate change. Over the last 20 years, monarch populations have fallen by more than 80 percent. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is nearly a 60 percent chance the monarch’s spectacular, multigenerational migration in the eastern half of the country could completely collapse within the next 20 years. More alarmingly, the western population that winters in California has collapsed by nearly 99.4 percent, and could disappear in a few short years.
The City of Washington has taken a strong stand in defense of native pollinators. On June 20, 2014, President Obama issued the Presidential Memorandum “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators,” which required the District to create pollinator protection plans to specifically address issues facing pollinators at the local level.
In 2016, the District of Columbia had the distinction of being proclaimed a Bee City USA, thanks to the creation of a pollinator protection plan implemented by the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE). The District is home to an active beekeeping community with several hundred hives and is home to some 130 species of native bees and nearly 100 species of butterflies.
Initiatives such as this one represent a major step towards the protection of biotic pollinating agents, considering that due to the high degree of agricultural intensification in rural areas, the impact of pesticides on fauna is threatening the survival of many insectivorous and small species. Cities often serve as “islands” of protection for these endemic species.