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Status of Pollinators in North America
threat and population decline before an animal or plant can be listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern—terms that themselves are suggestive of particular patterns of population change. However, different jurisdictions can define terms differently, and that causes difficulty for comparative studies of decline or endangerment. Some species also have inherently small populations and restricted ranges, and their relative rarity might not be the result of declining population.
In determining whether pollinator populations are declining, it is important to acknowledge the distinction between a “decline” and a “shortage.” An economically driven shortage of pollinators that occurs as a result of increased demand could be entirely independent of the condition of pollinator populations. In this report, the term “decline” is applied to populations for which the number of individuals is decreasing over time; “shortage” means that the supply of pollinators or their services is insufficient to meet demand. The status of pollinator populations and assemblages can be assessed in many ways, both direct and indirect (see Appendix G for examples of methods for analyzing pollinator status).
Although more than 750,000 insect species have been described (Grimaldi and Engel, 2005), possibly as many as 30 million more await discovery and formal description (Erwin, 1982; Stork, 1988, 1996; see also May, 1999, and Erwin, 2004). Insects comprise the most diverse assemblage of terrestrial animals, including within their ranks some of the most economically important pollinators and the dominant pollinators in a variety of natural systems. In some communities, insects pollinate as many as 93 percent of the flowering plants (Bawa, 1974, 1990; Kato, 2000). Unfortunately, the available taxonomic expertise does not exist to document fully the Earth’s insect biodiversity (Box 2-1); it is a virtual certainty that many insect pollinators have yet to be discovered and identified. Notwithstanding the existence of taxonomic impediments, a substantial body of information is available on pollinator population trends. The quality of this information, however, varies with taxon as, accordingly, do conclusions about the status of pollinators in these groups.
Ants, Bees, and Wasps (Order Hymenoptera)
The order Hymenoptera is a diverse and economically important group of approximately 125,000 described species comprising plant-feeding sawflies, parasitic and nonparasitic wasps, ants, and bees (Zayed and Packer,