Students and faculty from Wilmington College (WC) returned recently from a trip to Washington, D.C., where they trained and practiced to be advocates for change—in this case, attempting to reverse the dramatic downward trend of bee and butterfly populations.
According to researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS), one in three bites of food consumed requires pollination by bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats or other small insects. Without that ecological service, many flowering crops would fail.
And yet, pollinators are dying off at a rate that is all-too-high. Many species are threatened or facing extinction, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). What is causing the mass die-off, especially of honeybees—victims of a phenomenon called “colony collapse”—is still largely unknown.
“It is clear we just need more research to figure out why the bees are dying off,” said Lindsey Carpenter, WC senior and group leader on the advocacy trip.
Students on the trip met with representatives of the USDA, American Farm Bureau Federation and the Sierra Club, however no one from their respective agencies could comment on a clear cause or solution to the pollinator population problem.
In the case of bees, research from the USDA-ARS and the IPBES points to a number of potentially confounding factors, including hive-invading Varroa mites and tracheal mites, the use of pesticides near hives, changing microclimates, and the loss of natural pollinator habitat. But both organizations agree, more research is needed at the hive level.
“Big picture thinking comes from asking good questions and considering as many perspectives as we can collect and consider.” – Corey Cockerill
“The students learned a lot, I think,” said Corey Cockerill, associate professor of communication arts and agricultural communications and trip adviser. “The most important lesson was, perhaps, there are many sides to an issue, and often no clear answers or solutions. Big picture thinking comes from asking good questions and considering as many perspectives as we can collect and consider.”
A second group of advocates from WC departs October 16 for Washington, D.C., examining issues and opportunities in agricultural trade.