Pollinator Week 2021: How pollinators support our mental and physical well-being
June 21, 2021
Monarch butterfly on Silphium spp. Photo by Mike Budd/USFWS.
We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are passionate about conservation, and for many of us, conservation and outdoor activities are favorite pastimes that contribute to our well-being. But did you know that pollinators are the backbone of many of our beloved ecosystems? The outdoor places people use for recreation and relaxation all need pollinators to stay functioning and healthy. Everyone needs pollinators to stay functioning and healthy too, as pollinators are the reason why you can enjoy so many different fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Thus, healthy pollinators lead to our own health and well-being.
Pollinators contribute to ecosystem biodiversity and the maintenance of ecosystem health and function by playing a critical role in plant reproduction. When pollinators support ecosystems, they support ecosystem services that benefit us all, such as carbon storage, air quality and flood control. They also support other wildlife that rely on the plant species they pollinate. Additionally, studies from Scientific Reports and the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health have shown that time spent in nature leads to an increase in mental health and overall well-being.
By contributing to plant reproduction, pollinators also promote food security and nutrition through a balanced diet. In fact, many scientists say that we can thank pollinators for one out of every three bites of food we eat. About three quarters of the world’s top crop plants rely on pollinators. Additionally, research has shown that local resource management, such as planting a pollinator garden, generates significant health benefits that stay within the community. These benefits include increased food stability, decreased vitamin deficiency, and increased nutrition. Furthermore, with improved nutrition, your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes decreases. Your favorite foods and recipes (such as apple pie, strawberries and almond milk) might require pollination. So next time you enjoy a salad, smoothie or vegetable soup, think of the pollinators that brought those foods to your table.
Pollinators also provide a variety of cultural, social and medicinal values that can sometimes be forgotten. Butterflies, bumble bees, birds and bats are all species we cherish and want to persist. For example, monarch butterflies inspire art and clothing, and bumble bees inspire books, movies and memes. Many elementary schools dedicate time for students to raise their own butterflies and learn about biology as a class, and “save the bees” has become a social movement dedicated towards pollinator conservation. These social and cultural connections can benefit our mental well-being, helping us feel part of a community. Pollinators also have the potential to provide medicinal benefits. Honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including throat infections, diarrhea and eczema. It is also a popular ingredient for cosmetic products. Medicinal uses for bee venom date back to ancient Egypt to treat joint pain, and today its use is being researched for arthritis and central nervous system diseases, like Parkinson’s. Pollinators provide benefits beyond the most obvious ones, and their conservation is critical to safeguard these benefits.
Syrphid flies on a wild prairie rose. Photo by Krista Lundgren/USFWS.
National Pollinator Week is June 21-27th. As part of this celebration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages you to engage with your local pollinators. Next time you have a moment, take a pollinator walk around your neighborhood or nearby park and reflect on how you feel when in these places and how pollinators have contributed to those feelings.