UMD Collaborates Across Disciplines to Characterize the Economics and Value of Pollination

Review provides insights into the sustainability and resilience of managed versus wild pollinators

Image Credit: Bianca Ackermann

May 20, 2021 SAMANTHA WATTERS

The University of Maryland (UMD) co-published a new review paper in the Annual Review of Resource Economics to examine pollinators from both an economic and ecological perspective, providing much needed insight into the complexities of valuing pollination. Pollinators are not only a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, but they are also necessary to produce certain foods and boost crop yields. While native and wild pollinators (whether they be certain bee species, other insects and animals, or just the wind) still play an important role, managed honey bee colonies are commercially trucked around the U.S. to meet the need for pollination services in agricultural products. Recent reports of parasites, disease, and other concerns in colonies call into question the resilience of the managed honey bee rental markets, as well as how those managed bees are interacting with native pollinators. This recent collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of North Texas (UNT) highlights the importance of characterizing the economic value of pollination services, including that of managed and wild pollinators, both for the sustainability of honey bee markets and the protection of overall ecosystem health.

“Many people don’t realize that honey bees are not native to the U.S., or that they are actually a form of agricultural livestock rented out largely for their pollination services,” says Erik Lichtenberg, professor in Agricultural and Resource Economics at UMD. “It used to be that you raised bees for honey, but today, pollination services account for the largest share of commercial beekeeper income, with honey as a secondary product. Agriculture is always integrated into an ecosystem, and we typically think about the managed parts without the ecosystem parts. But when we are thinking about resilience and things like climate change which is changing the ecosystem, then we have to reckon with the parts that we’ve tended to ignore. Getting a more holistic sense of the health of pollinators and the true resilience of the rental market is very important.”

Continue reading