Technically speaking, pollinators are “the biotic agents that move pollen from the anthers to the stigma to accomplish fertilization.” Very literally, the birds and the bees of the flowering plant world!
Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification. While pollinators do include both birds and bees, this group also includes wasps, ants, flies, butterflies, moths, and some reptiles and mammals. Even gardeners can be pollinators, hand pollinating plants to prevent contamination and maintain pure genetic strains.
Some plants have co-evolved with the local pollinators, and the loss of native pollinators could lead to extinction of these unique plant species, as the pollinators and plants have evolved to be specialized for each other.
It is estimated that over three quarters of all farmed crops require animal pollination, so along with pollinator decline and the loss of specialized plants, we also face the crucial issue of farmed foods not being pollinated. The economic impacts of pollinator decline are already being felt in many areas. Where native pollinator species have become scarce, farmers have to replace them with managed bee populations, which involves added cost and work.
So, its clear that we are facing some problems with pollinator decline, but why is this happening? And, what can be done to restore pollinators to a healthy level?