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Key issues

This cross-cutting initiative addresses the multiple links between biodiversity and pollinators.

Pollinators contribute to biodiversity and life on Earth

Pollinators provide an essential ecosystem service that results in the reproduction of many plants. There are some 240,000 species of flowering plants described. To set seed, nearly all of the flowers must be pollinated. For most plants, specialized pollinators are needed to transfer the pollen between flowers. Honeybees are not the only groups of pollinators; they are found in diverse groups of the animal kingdom, including birds, bats, opossums, giraffes, reptiles, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps and other bees. Each pollinator species reacts to and is attracted by a specific set of signals given by the flowers. This variety of signals and the different modes of reaction by the receiver clearly show that most of the interrelations between plants and their pollinators are finely tuned and can be easily disturbed or broken. Destruction of habitats and further extinction of specific species of plants threaten pollinator diversity. Also, the extinction of pollinator species threatens the existence of specialized plants that rely on them for pollination. The biodiversity of pollinators and plants are thus strongly linked.

Pollinators contribute to food security

Pollinators benefit society by increasing food security and improving livelihoods. Plants set seed and fruit only after pollination, and plants depend on seeds for reproduction. Specialists estimate that two-thirds of the world's 3000 species of agricultural crops require animals for pollination. Fruits (e.g., cucumbers, bananas, avocados, figs, cherries) and seeds (e.g., soy beans, peanuts, hazelnuts, sesame) are essential food for humans and animals, as are their leaves (e.g., lettuce), flowers (e.g., cauliflower and broccoli), stems (e.g., sugar cane) and roots (e.g., sweet potatoes).

Pollinators contribute to global economy

Pollination services are essential to global economy. One-third of the world’s crops demand pollination to set seeds and fruits, and the great majority of them are pollinated by many of the estimated 25,000 species of bees. The annual value of this service in the United States is calculated at US$ 6-8 billion and the worldwide estimate is US$ 65-70 billion. A decline in many pollinator species, such as bats and wild bees, has been documented all around the world, negatively affecting agriculture productivity and sustainability. For example, estimated harvest loss through lack of pollination for 30 crops studied was US$ 54.6 billion, representing a 46% loss of crop yields.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme