Pollinators play an integral part in the reproductive process of 75% to 95% of all flowering plants (Ollerton et al., 2011; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2019a), but the world has seen a substantial reduction in the abundance of pollinators (Pollinator Health Task Force, 2015). Many of the world’s fruits and vegetables are dependent on pollinators, so the reduction in pollinators has the potential to inflict considerable economic damage to both the United States and the rest of the world. Of the leading 57 single crops, 39 of them are dependent to some degree upon pollinators, with the production volume of these 39 crops representing 35% of global food production (Klein et al., 2007). It is estimated that pollinators contribute between 5% and 8% of market value to annual global crop production, which equated to between $235 billion and $577 billion in 2015 dollars (Potts et al., 2017). In the United States, it is estimated that pollinators contribute $20 billion to $40 billion to agriculture production (Calderone, 2012; Wildlife Habitat Council, 2005). Honey bees (Apis mellifera), in particular, account for $10 billion to $20 billion (Calderone, 2012).
Although some pollinators have declined steeply over time, other pollinators have experienced weak declines to even increasing abundance (Bartomeus et al., 2013). However, the decline of bees (Apis sp.) in some areas has affected both unmanaged wild bees and commercially managed domesticated bees. Recently, the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was added to the endangered species list. This marks the first time a bee has been added to the endangered species list (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2019b). The decline of domesticated honeybee colonies has seen the number of managed colonies decreasing from a little more than 4 million in 1980 to just more than 2.5 million in 2015 (Pollinator Health Task Force, 2015). This decrease has resulted in changes to U.S. regulatory policy—notably, the relaxing of the prohibition of honeybees and honeybee genetic material imports into the United States to meet demand for pollinators (Federal Register, 2004).
As agricultural producers look to ensure pollinators are accessible to pollinate their crops, researchers are working to understand the loss in pollinators. As noted by the Pollinator Partnership (Johnson, 2010), from the 1990s to the mid 2000s, colony losses averaged ≈18% per year. However, from 2006 to 2014, the average colony losses were ≈30% (van Engelsdorp et al., 2014). Most of the hypothesized theories for pollinator decline have focused on causes such as the loss of native habits, pesticides, diseases, weather, and parasites as significant contributing factors to the general decline of pollinators (Johnson and Corn, 2015; National Academies Press, 2007).
As pollinator issues have come to the forefront, many consumers and activists have advocated for the removal of commonly used pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, from producer use. Retail outlets, including Home Depot (Atlanta, GA) and Lowes (Morresville, NC), have banned their suppliers from using neonicotinoids on plants to be sold in their stores (Bose and Orr, 2015; Home Depot, 2016). Furthermore, the state of Maryland banned consumer use of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids starting in 2018 (Wood, 2016).
As noted by Blacquière et al. (2012) and Decourtye and Devillers (2010) in their literature reviews on the effects of neonicotinoids, there is no concrete evidence that correct use of neonicotinoids are the main cause of pollinator decline. However, consumers face a barrage of information from various groups (e.g., media, activists, universities) that often contain conflicting messages about the impact of pesticides on pollinator decline. The decision about which sources to trust can be difficult. Often, the level of trust an individual consumer has about a news source and/or type of information (neutral or negative) is conditionally dependent upon characteristics such as age, income, and political party affiliation (McCluskey et al., 2016; Mitchell et al., 2016).
Although there is a body of literature that focuses on environmentally friendly labeling (Behe et al., 2013; Khachatryan et al., 2014; Rihn et al., 2015; Yue et al., 2011), bee-friendly labeling (Wollaeger et al., 2015), pollinator-friendly labeling (Khachatryan et al., 2018), and pesticide labeling (Rihn and Khachatryan, 2016), little is known about how varying information sources and type of information will impact a consumer’s intention to purchase pollinator-friendly plants. The aim of this study was to understand more fully how information communicated to consumers influenced their intended purchasing habits for pollinator-friendly plants. Specifically, the study looked at the source of information (e.g., from a university, major media outlets, activist group) and type of information (i.e., linking and not linking pollinator decline to pesticides) on consumer-indicated future purchasing of pollinator-friendly plants for their landscape. We hypothesize that information from seemingly “unbiased” sources (university and federal government) would have a significant impact compared with providing no information, whereas information from seemingly “biased” sources (nursery/greenhouse industry and environmental activist groups) would not be different from the no-information group. Furthermore, we hypothesize that linking pesticides to pollinator decline would increase the likelihood of a consumer purchasing a pollinator-friendly plant compared with not providing any information. By understanding the impact of messaging from different sources, industry associations, policymakers, and stakeholders gain a better understanding of how their messaging will influence consumer decision making and of policies at the state and regional levels.
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