Pollinators face serious declines in numbers

Certain groups of birds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, moths and flies — the so-called pollinators — got a lot of praise this week as the nation celebrated National Pollinator Week.

The pollinators deserve the attention. They are some of Earth’s most valuable creatures, helping to pollinate more than 75 percent of our flowering plants and nearly 75 percent of fruit and vegetable crops.

Without pollinators, the world could face serious famines. Food prices could rise astronomically. A 2012 study by University of Georgia researchers showed that the economic value of pollinators to Georgia farmers alone is about $608 million per year. Worldwide, it is more than $217 billion.

To “recognize the importance of pollinators to ecosystem health and agriculture in the United States,” the U.S. Senate in 2006 called for National Pollinator Week to be observed every June.

Pollination occurs when pollen from the male part of a flower (stamen) is moved to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma) and fertilizes it, resulting in fruit and seed production. Many plants rely on the wind to move pollen, but a vast number of other plants depend on pollinators.

Unfortunately, numerous wild pollinators are in serious decline because of habitat loss, disease, pesticide misuse and other problems. A fungal malady is killing thousands of bats each year. Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted by as much as 90 percent.

Particularly alarming are declines among dozens of native bee species. As a group, bees are the most important of all pollinators. (Our domestic honeybee, a non-native, also is an important pollinator, but its abilities pale in comparison with native bees’.)

Locally, the Greater Atlanta Pollinator Partnership strives to create and restore habitats around Atlanta for pollinators. Nearly 1.2 million acres of potential pollinator habitat exists within a 25-mile radius of downtown, the group says. To see how you can help, visit gapp.org.

In the sky: Summer officially arrives at 6:51 a.m. Saturday — the longest day of the year. The moon will be new June 27, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Center astronomer. Venus rises out of the east about two hours before sunrise and will appear near the moon Tuesday morning. Mars is in the south at sunset. Jupiter is low in the west at dusk and sets about an hour later. Saturn is in the east just after dark.