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  • Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures that Feed our World by Jodi Helmer
  • Michael Roswell (bio)
Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures that Feed our World
Jodi Helmer. 2019. Washington, D.C. Island Press. $28.00 USD paperback. ISBN: 978-1-61091-9364. 232 pages.

Swollen with facts, but lacking direction, Protecting Pollinators is as fragile, fickle, and ephemeral as the animals whose conservation it purports to address. Though subtitled "how to save the creatures that feed our world," the book tactfully avoids reviewing the ecology of food production and the role of pollinators within food production systems. The book simultaneously bemoans a focus on charismatic species, yet spends perhaps as many words on monarch and other butterflies, lightning beetles, goats, and insectivorous bats as on the bees and flies responsible for agricultural yield. Even the extent of agricultural reliance on pollinators reads as unclear, with the suggestion that the majority of crops are wind pollinated.

Among other contradictions, the author demonizes non-native species, but celebrates honey bee keeping. Despite discussing invasive plant removal at length, the author fails to make a convincing case that non-native plants or insects (such as the honey bee) truly threaten pollinators, native or otherwise. It's not even clear which species experts consider native; a section on bee hotels cites one recent immigrant bee, Megachile sculpturalis, seemingly as a native species. More importantly, after reading Protecting Pollinators, I am unclear which creatures feed the world, which of the threats they face are greatest and most urgent, or what actions I or others can earnestly take to forestall or mitigate those threats.

In the introduction, the author notes that pollinators, and bees in particular, are ever-more in vogue, and that the paradigms surrounding their protection shift in step. This introduction makes a strong case for the current need for a book like Protecting Pollinators. Yet in spite of this timeliness, Protecting Pollinators's half-life may be short. The pages about President Trump's border wall can only grow stale with age; other facts and figures are presented as permanent, despite already being out of date by publication. A few struck the reader: the author focuses on the role of chemical giants in pollinator protection (and generating the threats to pollinators, as well) but does not mention that one giant, Bayer, acquired another much-discussed giant, Monsanto. In the discussion of challenges facing honey bees, the author repeats the myth that the parasitic mite responsible for honey bee losses, Varroa destructor, feeds on the hemolymph (blood) of bees, rather than their "fat bodies." The author successfully reviewed a prodigious amount of information, which predisposes the reader to forgive these and other editorial oversights, such as unnecessary repetition, uncharitable quotation of interview sources, and few cues about the overall structure of the book's central argument.

The greatest strength of the book is the relish with which the author clearly researched the myriad issues and case studies discussed in its pages. Each case study is succinct and reads with ease. Perhaps as restoration ecologists learn these narratives, they can inform the scientific, economic, and political next steps in protecting pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide. As accompaniments, restorationists seeking a practical guide to conserving pollinators might turn to the Xerces Society's Attracting Native Pollinators (Storey Publishing 2011); if seeking a user-friendly guide to identification and natural history, Wilson and Messinger Carril's The Bees in your Backyard (Princeton University Press, 2016); or if seeking an indepth and sophisticated review of the natural history of solitary bees, Danforth, Minckley, and Neff's forthcoming The Solitary Bees (Princeton University Press 2019). [End Page 280]

Michael Roswell

Michael Roswell ( is a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers University. Michael's research interests include the ecology of native bees and best practices in biodiversity assessment.



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