- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
She spoke on "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation" to a capacity crowd gathered July 18 in the ARC Ballroom.
“Who needs to act?" she asked. "Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses.”
Quoting noted biologist/author E. O. Wilson, Dicks said that insects are “the little things that run the world.”
Dicks began her presentation by chronicling news media accounts of “insectageddon,” which Cambridge fellow Robert Macfarlane defined on Twitter as “the current calamitous population decline of insect species globally, with catastrophic results for life on earth.”
One news story, by environment editor Damian Carrington of The Guardian, warned that "The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems." Carrington, in his Feb. 10, 2019 piece, titled “Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse of Nature," wrote that “More than 40 percent of insect species are declining and a third are endangered...The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.”
“Wild insect pollinators have declined in occurrence, diversity, and in some cases, abundance, in Europe and North America,” Dicks told the crowd. “Lack of data for other regions prevents global assessment of status for insect pollinators, but the main drivers of decline are operating everywhere.”
“Why does pollinator decline matter?” she asked. “Eighty-eight percent of wild plant species depend on pollinators. At least half of the crop pollination serves are provided by wild pollinators—half by managed honey bees.”
Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses must get involved, she reiterated.
What Farmers Should Do
For example, she said, farmers should
- Plant flowers for nectar and pollen
- Manage hedges and forest edges for wildlife
- Restore and protect flower-rich native habitats like meadows, scrubland and woodland
- Provide set aside or fallow areas
- Leave field edges and corners to naturally generate
- Provide nesting sites for bees ("bare ground, big old trees and bee hotels")
What the General Public Should Do
The general public's role should be:
- Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees
- Let your garden grow wild
- Cut your grass less often
- Don't disturb insect nest and hibernation spots
- Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
What Governments Should Do
Dicks touched on 10 "pollinator policies" that governments should do:
- Raise pesticide regularly standards
- Promote integrated pest management
- Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessment
- Regulate movement of managed pollinators
- Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals
- Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in a extension services
- Support diversified farming systems
- Conserve and restore 'green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes
- Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination
- Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified and ecologically intensive farming
Dicks, in her position at the University of East Anglia, engages in research in entomology, agroecology, management of biodiversity and ecosystem services on farms. (See research profile.)
In addition to addressing pollinator decline and "who needs to act and what should they do," the researcher touched on how to motivate people: "insights from the behavioral sciences; and the importance of local knowledge and culture."
Awareness and Understanding Are Not Sufficient
She offered key insights from behavioral science, noting that "awareness and understanding are not sufficient; decisions are not always rational; social norms are important; peer-to-peer communication within social groups drives behavior change and people must feel ABLE to act in their current context."
Dicks recommended that the attendees become acquainted with the work of the coalition Promote Pollinators (https://promotepollinators.org). An excerpt from the website: "Pollinators play a key role in the conservation of biological diversity, ecosystems, food production and the global economy. The effects of current human activities hamper animal pollination. Promote Pollinators, the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators, reaches out to potential new partners to develop and implement national pollinator strategies. The coalition believes that country-led politics can foster policy measures and innovative action on protecting pollinators."
She also cited the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Dicks described pollinator decline as "a complex issue." People--including some politicians--have to change to help protect the pollinators and the ecosystem.
How Some Politicians Use Science
Dicks quoted author Mark Avery, former director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: "I have rarely seen a policy argument won through logic and science, even though everybody pretends that they are. No, politicians use science like a drunk uses a lamp post--more for support than for illumination."
The conference, “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” covered a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. (See agenda.)
Dicks keynoted the conference on Thursday morning, July 18, and Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, delivered a keynote address on Friday, July 19, discussing "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes."
Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, both of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, co-chaired the conference. Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and events manager Elizabeth Luu coordinated the four-day event.
Presenters from 15 Countries
Williams said that presenters represented 15 countries: Australia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. "And we had at least one attendee from China--although not presenting."
"This was the fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy," Williams said. "Each time we try to add new elements that address emerging challenges and new directions in research. This year's sessions felt as fresh and innovative as ever, adding symposia on climate change, innovative monitoring and data collection, and urban bees. By restricting presenters to those who had not presented in the past six years we also added new voices and perspectives."
"We also grew. In the past the conference has been just under 200 attendees. This year it topped 250, and we had to turn away several people because we simply could not fit more into the space. We added a second evening of posters to provide more time to interact. The response was overwhelming with 112 poster presenters!"
Williams said that the conference "also added more explicit policy elements by creating a set of ViewPOINTS documents summarizing key areas in pollinator biology and heath that target policy makers. This has allowed for collaborative interaction across the attendees and a set of deliverable products from our interactions."
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, coordinated the conference, with events manager Elizabeth "Liz" Luu serving in the lead role.
"It was an amazing team effort pulling it all together," Williams said. "Liz Luu from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center (HRC) was in a word, fantastic, keeping every thing and everyone together. The HPC really showed what it can do and what tremendous value it adds to our campus. The organizing committee worked so well together, sharing the load throughout. A great set of colleagues!"
The next International Pollinator Conference will take place at Pennsylvania State University. Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University launched the conference in 2012. They are held every third year.