Sacramento Bee: Opponents of conservation often scoff at the notion that society should protect obscure insects, bats and other critters. Yet a report by the National Research Council last week again reveals why some of nature's least charismatic creatures are vital to our economy.
According to the NRC, many pollinators -- including species of bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds -- are declining in population. Their diminishing numbers threaten not only natural systems, but also farm operations that are hugely dependent on honeybees and other pollinators.
Honeybees, notes the NRC, help pollinate more than 90 crops nationwide, including many in California. About 1.4 million colonies of bees are needed to pollinate 550,000 acres of almonds.
Yet in recent decades, honeybees have been hurting. In 2005, a major die-off led to a pollinator panic. As a result, the cost of renting beehives more than doubled.
What's killing these pollinators? More research is needed, says the NRC, but threats include mites, pesticides and loss of natural habitat. Honeybees, of course, are an introduced species. But research at the Berkeley and Davis campuses of the University of California indicate that honeybees are much better pollinators when they interact with wild bees. Wild bees encourage the honey bees to move around more, spreading more pollen among rows of plants or trees.
The good news is that backyard gardeners in Sacramento and other cities are planting pollinator-friendly plants, boosting the numbers of wild bees, butterflies and other species. The NRC recommends more such efforts to help landowners restore bee habitat. Obviously, we in farm-rich areas have a vested interest in this subject, but so does everyone else.