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Why Canada should prioritize protecting wild pollinator populations: UBC study


Better protections for wild pollinator populations in Canada could result in major financial gains for farmers while increasing food security across the nation, according to a new B.C.-based study.

Researchers with the University of British Columbia worked with Nature Conservancy Canada to determine how these pollinators—which include native bees, moths, wasps, beetles and flies—benefit agriculture in order to understand the potential gains of increasing their dwindling populations.

Dr. Matt Mitchell, an assistant professor for UBC’s faculties of forestry and land and food systems who led the study, says the decline is due to a combination of habitat destruction, widespread pesticide use, and the spread of parasites and pathogens.

Researchers found that these species provide benefits to crops that require pollination, generating $2.8 billion in annual farm income and enough food to feed 24 million people—although some is fed to animals instead.

However, the study suggests nearly double the monetary and nutritious gains could be made if pollinators' habitats were improved or restored.

“If this was done everywhere, which I’m not saying is feasible, there’d be a potential increase of 30 million people fed and $3 billion to farmer income as well,” says Mitchell.


Blueberries, cranberries, buckwheat, canola and orchard crops rely heavily on wild pollinators, which helps explain why Saskatchewan and Alberta are especially affected by a lack of pollinator habitats near croplands.

Mitchell says these two provinces produce a lot of canola and peas—crops that take over really large areas where a lot of pollinator habitat has been lost.

If more was done to protect the populations, Alberta stands to gain $597 million and feed an additional 4.3 million people, while Saskatchewan farmers would earn another $1.6 billion and feed 11.5 additional people.

That doesn’t mean B.C. doesn’t stand to gain from increased wild pollinators.

“We just have a lot less agricultural land, we don’t feed as many people as other places in the country, so we don’t see it show up as being as important on a national scale,” Mitchell says.

“But the crops we do grow are really high value, like blueberries in the Fraser Valley and orchard crops in the Okanagan, so increasing pollinator habitats could significantly boost farmer income in B.C.”

Filling gaps in wild pollinator habitats would earn B.C. farmers $80 million more per year and feed an additional 67,000 people, according to the study.


The study also highlights the importance of forests around agricultural areas.

“There might actually be a win-win scenario here, where restoring forests that also help store carbon and fight climate change could also provide pollinator habitat for agriculture,” says Mitchell.

The research is largely meant to place pressure on politicians at provincial and federal levels to make pollinator conservation a priority. However, Mitchell says there are ways the public can help as well.

One way is to include pollinator-friendly materials in urban gardens, while another is to support the work on conservation organizations like the Native Bee Society of British Columbia and Bumble Bee Watch.

The latter offers citizens the opportunity to do community science.

“So, take pictures of bumblebees that they see, and then upload them to their site and allow experts to validate which species are seen. They use that information to map bumblebee populations.”


Mitchell says there’s still a lot of knowledge gaps when it comes to wild pollinator populations and which species interact with certain crops.

That’s in part due to the sheer number of species—Canada is home to more than 800 types of native bees alone—and the fact a lot of them look similar and are often flying around.

What is clear, according to the study, is that if all of them were to disappear, Canada would witness a significant loss of native plant series, and farmers would face higher costs to cultivate certain crops.

The consumer would notice this at the grocery store, as the scarcity of certain fruits and vegetables would increase grocery bills.

Many farmers rely on European honeybees to pollinate their crops, but that species only has so much capacity, and managing hives can be expensive and arduous.

Mitchell believes those costs could be reduced by providing more habitat to wild pollinators.

“It’s almost like a free service that they’re providing,” he explains. Top Stories

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