The importance of pollinators for agriculture

Bombus (Thoracobombus) morio (Swederus, 1787).

How the small agents directly influence agricultural production.


Favízia Freitas de Oliveira has a degree in biological sciences from the State University of Feira de Santana, in Bahia, and has an interuniversity doctorate in biological sciences in the Area of Concentration in Entomology from the Federal University of Paraná and The University of Kansas (USA). She is currently a Professor and Researcher at the Institute of Biology at the Federal University of Bahia, as well as a bee taxonomist and Coordinator of the Laboratory of Bionomy, Biogeography and Insect Systematics (BIOSIS).


Dra. de Oliveira writes the following article for AgriBrasilis.

Pollinating animals provide an extremely important ecosystem service, both for environmental conservation and for food production worldwide, in agriculture. As we all know, the production of fruits and seeds, as well as the survival of the plants themselves, are consequences of the process of plant reproduction. As plants cannot move to seek partners in their reproduction, many botanical species depend on pollen vectors (units that contain their male gametes), so that they can reproduce, maintaining their gene flow and, consequently, their genetic variability.

Pollen vectors are represented by a great diversity of vertebrate and invertebrate animals, which provide the free pollination ecosystem service for humanity. Studies have shown that pollinating animals contribute to the sexual reproduction of more than 90% of species of angiosperm plants ( and in more than 35% of agricultural plants that feed the world ( including at least 800 human-important plants grown worldwide –, in addition to many plants used by the pharmaceutical industry.

In monetary terms, pollination has been estimated at more than US$ 112 billion a year worldwide, and even for some agricultural crops that do not depend on pollination, cross-pollination by pollinating animals improves not only the quantity (higher production and smaller area of cultivation), but also quality of seeds and products.

Geotrigona subterranea (Friese, 1901), social bee “without sting” from the Meliponini tribe, in apple blossom (Cascavel, Chapada Diamantina, Bahia). Source: BIOSIS Laboratory Archive (UFBA).

Knowledge accumulated over the years, through studies carried out in different parts of the world, revealed that, from the point of view of biodiversity, 90% of plants pollinated by animals are pollinated by insects ( /10.1007/978-3-662-05238-9_7), and in particular bees (Hymenoptera, Anthophila), which are the most important pollinators of wild and cultivated plants ( abs / 10.1146 / annurev.ecolsys.29.1.83), being responsible for more than 85% of the pollination of the most important agricultural plants for the human species.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that the maintenance of the diversity of pollinators contributes to the maintenance of our diversity of food and to the improvement of our quality of life, especially in Brazil, where we have one of the largest agricultural frontiers in the world, and much of our economy depends on agribusiness. It is also worth remembering that not only does humanity depend directly on pollination, since other animals (consumers of fruits, seeds or the plant itself) and the plants themselves (for reproduction) also depend. Indirectly, animals that feed on other herbivorous animals also depend on pollination, including man in our daily consumption of animal protein (pollination is also necessary for animal feed production).

Another important thing to mention is that we all have the right guaranteed by law to our food security. Food and Nutritional Security (SAN) comprises the realization of the right of all Brazilian citizens to regular and permanent access to quality food, in sufficient quantity, without compromising access to other essential needs (Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security – LOSAN –, based on health-promoting food practices that respect cultural diversity and that are environmentally, culturally, economically and socially sustainable (http://://

Thus, LOSAN establishes not only our right to quality food, respecting cultural aspects that are important to all of us, which is quite complex ( 52732007000100008), but also provides for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources, as a guarantee for our food and nutritional security. Therefore, if we all have the Human Right to Adequate Food, we also have the Human Duty, by law, to Conserve Biodiversity, as a guarantee to promote Food Security for ourselves and for future generations to come.

Centris (Hemisiella) tarsata (Smith, 1874), solitary oil-collecting bee, one of the most common pollinators of aceroleira in Brazil. Source: BIOSIS Laboratory Archive (UFBA).

Thinking more globally in the medium and long terms, our biggest challenge will be to think of our agriculture as one of the most efficient ways to guarantee our food security, which should adopt a production model respectful of the environment, adopting measures that conserve the biodiversity for its own benefit (greater production in the same planted areas), also promoting the health of workers and consumers, as well as excluding actions that escape the precautionary principle, aiming at and promoting actions that integrate responsible production and consumption.

When it comes to Brazil, with one of the most biodiverse fauna in the world, another important challenge will be to know and preserve our pollinator fauna and, for that, we need greater investment in studies that promote the taxonomic and bionomic / behavioral knowledge of these animals so that we can implement efficient measures for handling, conservation and sustainable use of pollinators, guaranteeing production in quality and quantity, with environmental responsibility.

Our biggest mistake is to stop considering environmental conservation as an ally to agribusiness. Production and conservation are not antagonistic, but necessary and complementary. Without environmental conservation, especially of pollinating animals, we cannot think of a promising scenario in terms of production, especially for those crops that depend on cross-pollination carried out by biological vectors.

*Main photo:
Bombus (Thoracobombus) morio (Swederus, 1787), soil social bumblebee, one of the passion fruit pollinators (in passion fruit flower – Cascavel, Chapada Diamantina, Bahia). Source: BIOSIS Laboratory Archive (UFBA).