Our Institute’s Ode to The Pollinators: The Living World’s Unsung Heroes

Our Institute’s Ode to The Pollinators: The Living World’s Unsung Heroes

What is a pollinator?

It’s all in the name: a pollinator is an animal that transfers pollen from one plant to another.

The most well-known pollinator is the bee, but birds, butterflies, moths, flies, ants, beetles, and even bats also complete this necessary task.

How do they do it? In harvesting plants’ sweet nectar, the hungry visitor inadvertently gets pollen stuck to their body. As they travel from plant to plant, the pollen falls off, and the plants’ genetic material is successfully delivered so that fruit production is possible.

Why are pollinators important? Here’s some food for thought:


  • One of every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of pollinators.
  • More than 150 crops require pollinators in the United States alone.
  • 90% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators.
  • Pollinators provide more than $10 billion in economic value annually in the U.S.
  • Bees pollinate more than 70% of the crop species that provide a majority of the world’s food.

Clearly, we all rely on pollinators. They run the world.

Pollinators might be the unsung heroes of the global food chain, but they are in grave danger. Habitat loss, pesticide use, and malnutrition are just a few of the dozens of factors negatively affecting native pollinators in Illinois, the Midwest, and the world. If the pattern of declining pollinator populations continues, food scarcity could become a global problem. Not to mention the catastrophic ecological effects that could occur; plants’ survival is dependent on pollinators, and not only humans eat fruit — animals do, too. Every food web involves pollinators.

Unfortunately, state and national legislation to protect native pollinators is meek. For example, the Save America’s Pollinators Act has been in development since 2013, but has yet to be passed. Even if it does become law, this Act has been criticized for not being comprehensive enough. More locally, the Saving Illinois’ Pollinators Act was filed in 2017, but failed to pass the Illinois Senate.

Although legislative action has been slow, the efforts of independent organizations have been largely successful and provide hope for forging a more pollinator-friendly future.

Bee City USA was borne from a passionate committee of beekeepers in North Carolina almost ten years ago, and today aims to protect pollinators nationwide. Bee City USA provides certifications for both cities and universities making efforts to be more pollinator-friendly. Requirements for certification include increasing native plants, reducing pesticide use, displaying signage focused on pollinator conservation, maintaining a Bee Campus USA committee, and incorporating pollinator conservation into education.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign became the 53rd Bee Campus USA in 2018; the first Big Ten Conference school to do so. Illinois now has five other Certified Bee Campuses (including the University of Illinois at Chicago) and two Certified Bee Cities, and these numbers grow annually. The 2020 draft of the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) emphasizes maintaining a Bee Campus USA status as a strategy to develop the best possible pollinator habitat.

You can do plenty to help native pollinators thrive near you.

A few options include:

  • Refrain from using pesticides and herbicides. Gardening and agricultural chemicals are one of the main culprits of the plight of pollinators.
  • Promote native plant species. You can do this by starting a garden or merely keeping a few outdoor potted plants. Furthermore, you can customize your plant selection to attract specific pollinators like bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds.
  • Let your lawn get a little wild. Dandelions and clovers grow naturally in almost every yard, and they are two of bees’ favorites. Pollinators will flock to your newborn meadow that formed in the absence of a lawn mower.

Next time you’re walking around campus, keep an eye out for Bee Campus USA signage and pollinator pockets like the one pictured above. You might be surprised to find that the previously meaningless patch of green you walk past daily is actually a flourishing home to our essential friends!

— Article by iSEE Communications Intern Maria Maring