In 2007, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated the first National Pollinator Week. Pollinator Week was established to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators following the rapid rise of Colony Collapse Disorder in the U.S. in 2006. This year’s celebration takes place June 18-24.
You don’t have to be a “tree-hugger” to be concerned about the state of pollinator populations. Consider this—do you drink coffee? Like chocolate ice cream? Adore French fries (don’t worry, I won’t tell!). Does your child think vanilla is the world’s best flavor? Is pumpkin the best pie for Thanksgiving? Or maybe apple? Well, if the pollinators disappear you can kiss all of these foods goodbye. They all rely on pollinators to produce the products we love.
Of course plants aren’t in the whole pollination game for our benefit. Most of the word’s plants (75%-95%) rely on pollinators to reproduce. Pollen moves from the anther, or male part of a flower, to the stigma, or female part of the flower. This can happen via wind, as with a crop like corn, but most plants rely on animals for assistance.
Not Just Bees
Bees have received a great deal of attention in the last few years and deservedly so. They are the most important pollinators for many plants, and modern agriculture relies heavily on bees to produce the large crops that feed all of us.
Bees are not, however, the only pollinators. Flies are the second-most important group. For example, we would not have chocolate without a teeny, tiny midge fly—the only pollinator small enough to squeeze into the cacao flower. Other pollinators include beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, bats, birds, and small mammals.
Why Pollinators Are in Trouble
Pollinators are threatened by the same woes that plague ecosystems around the world—habitat loss and degradation, pesticide and herbicide use, and invasive species. Habitat loss and degradation occurs on a large scale, like when huge swaths of land are cleared for development or when huge areas are planted in one crop (like wheat or corn) that does not provide food for pollinators.
Habitat loss also occurs on a small scale when empty lots are cleared for building or even when a small patch of food plants is cleared for some other planting. Pesticides and herbicides kill outright and also disrupt the balance between available food and size of pollinator populations. Invasive and non-native species often don’t provide food or don’t provide the right food for a region’s native pollinators.
Invite Pollinators to Your Neighborhood
Taking action to support pollinator populations in your neighborhood is relatively easy. The really rewarding thing is that your small contributions can make a real, near-immediate difference. This is not to detract from individual efforts to solve larger issues, but it is nice to be able to walk out onto the deck or into the yard and see your efforts come to fruition. Moreover, it is nice to be able to involve children in a conservation effort in which the results can be clearly seen.
This is possible because most pollinators, especially the insects, are not put off by urban or suburban living. They don’t mind if your garden is on the rooftop of a high-rise or next door to a shopping mall. If you offer flowery, nectar goodness, they will find you!
When planning your pollinator-friendly garden, choose native plants whenever possible. The Pollinator Partnership has a native plant guide (http://pollinator.org/guides.htm) that tailors recommendations to your region. Plant a variety of species that will flower successively over the entire growing season.
You can support pollinators year-round by offering shelter as well. A bit of bare soil, brush piles, and bee nesting blocks provide homes for all kinds of insects. The brush pile will also shelter birds and small mammals. If you live in an area that hosts bats, consider installing a bat house. (Even if they aren’t pollinating varieties, they are good to have around!)
Help Scientists Understand Pollinator Populations
Despite the attention given to declining pollinator populations in the last few years, very little is actually known about the state of most pollinator populations across North America. One way you can help is to participate in citizen science projects that study pollinators. Citizen science projects are great for homeschoolers and traditional classrooms. They engage people of all ages in real scientific endeavors. You can find a great list of citizen science projects at Scientific American’s Citizen Science section (http://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/). Here are a few pollinator project suggestions
**The Great Sunflower Project http://www.greatsunflower.org/
Launched in 2008 “. . . to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations and to give you the tools to learn about what is happening with the pollinators in your yard.” Open to all citizen scientists.
**BeeWatchers from The Great Pollinator Project http://greatpollinatorproject.org/volunteer/bee-watchers/become-a-bee-watcher
A project for New York City residents that tracks bee populations in the city.
A project for bee watchers in the State of Illinois—they hope to expand nationwide in the future.
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project http://www.mlmp.org/Default.aspx
A project from the University of Minnesota seeking to “better understand how and why monarch populations vary in time and space . . .” Open to all citizen scientists.
Native Buzz http://www.ufnativebuzz.com/index.html
This study from the University of Florida focuses on solitary bees and wasps. Open to all citizen scientists.
Other Helpful Links
The Pollinator Partnership’s website: http://pollinator.org/index.html
Guidance for gardeners from the Pollinator Partnership: http://pollinator.org/npw_gardens.htm
Resources for homeschoolers and teachers from the Pollinator Partnership: http://pollinator.org/education.htm
More resources for kids and teachers from Pollination Canada: http://www.pollinationcanada.ca/index.php?n=For+Kids+and+Teachers%21
A guide to attracting pollinators from the Fish & Wildlife Service (appropriate for adults and older kids): http://library.fws.gov/Pubs/Pollinator-Booklet2011.pdf
The Xerxes Society offers tips for bringing pollinators to your garden: http://www.xerces.org/bringbackthepollinators/
Lentils – bees and insects
Artichoke – bees
Figs – wasps
Honey – bees
Eggplant – bees
Onions – bees and flies
Garlic – bees and flies
Sesame Seed – bees, flies, wasps
Chili Peppers – bees
Sweet Potatoes – bees
Yellow Potatoes – bees
Garbanzo Beans – bees
Herbs – bees
Lettuce – bees and insects
Grapefruit – bees
Currant – bees
Avocados – bee, flies, and bats
Tomatoes – bees
Spinach – insects
Almonds – bees
Lemons – bees
Sugar Cane – bees
Cocoa – flies
Cherries – bees
Bananas – birds, bats
Vanilla – bees
Raspberries – bees
Strawberries – bees
Coffee – bees and flies
Tea – bees, insects, and flies
Cranberries – bees
Apples – bees
Tequila – bats
Oranges – bees