Posts Tagged ‘help pollinators’

How Pollinators Feed the World

Pollinators are more than just bees. There is a whole variety of insects and animals that do this important job. Pollination literally feeds the world, from the plants meant for human consumption to the ones animals all over the globe depend on.

This article published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives us a refresher course in the mechanics of what pollination really is. It also gives some beautiful examples of some of the animals that make it all possible.

Original article published here.

 

Wings of Life

woodland swallowtail butterfly
A woodland swallowtail butterfly visits a buttonbush. (Photo: Rick Hanson/USFWS)

 

You may not realize it, but we owe most of our fruits, crops and flowers to animals. Yes, animals. All day long in the growing season, insects and other creatures carry pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing them in the process and helping to feed the planet.

Oh, sure, wind and water carry pollen, too. But their role is tiny, compared to the work done on the wing. Bees lead the pack as living pollen transport units. Other important pollen carriers — or pollinators — include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.

So consider: When you help feed pollinators, you help sustain the world.

Watch a stunning video on the beauty of pollination.

a simplified look at pollination
The birds and the bees: An illustration offers a simplified look at pollination. (Credit: Kids Growing Strong)

 

Remember how it works? (It’s okay. We needed a refresher, too.) A stalk-like structure called the anther, located in the male part of a flower (called the stamen) makes pollen. For fertilization to occur, that pollen has to get to a flower’s female part, called the pistil (where seeds are made).

This is where a bee, bird, bat or other creature comes in. When the animal stops at a flower to feed on nectar or pollen, some pollen grains stick to its body. At the next flower stop, some of those grains brush off on the top of the pistil, called the stigma. Pollen grains on the stigma grow tubes down to the ovary, and fertilization begins. Mission accomplished.

Don’t worry. There’s no test. You can help feed pollinators even if you don’t remember the fine points of plant biology.  Every effort counts.

See a video on flower pollination.

A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen
A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen from rubber rabbitbrush at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Bees are the ultimate pollinators — focused on their job and built for it, too. Other insects, while important to the process, move pollen more by chance.

“Bees are the only insects deliberately seeking pollen as a food; it’s their main source of protein,” explains Wedge Watkins, wildlife biologist at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Missouri. “All these other animals are visiting the flower to get at its nectar. In the process of that, they stick their face or some other body part into the flower and accidentally get pollen on them.”

Bumblebees have developed an ingenious method to get pollen: They shake it loose by vibrating at just the right frequency — called buzz pollination. Some bees are specialists – able to use pollen from only one kind of flower.

Most bees also stock their nests with pollen to feed their young. “They store it in a variety of places — on their legs and on their abdomen,” says Watkins. “They carry it back to nest, mixed with nectar. They deposit it in ball shape and lay an egg on it. The egg develops into larva. The larva eats that pollen and pupates into an adult.”

Female bees do all the pollen gathering, and have hairy legs and abdomens adapted to the task. Male bees are thinner and much less hairy; their primary job is fertilizing the female and creating the next generation.

When you see bees buzzing in your wildflower garden – or around the flowers on your windowsill – it’s a sign things are going right.

A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees
A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees in the United States. (Chart: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire/Anna Giles)

 

For many Americans, the first warning sign that pollinators might be in trouble came from reports — beginning in 2006 or so — of losses  of honeybee colonies. Although honeybees are not native pollinators (more on this below), they face some of the same stressors as other pollinators.

These include habitat loss, disease, parasites and increased pesticide use. One group of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, arouses particular concern. These, in wide use since the mid-1990s, make whole plants — including their nectar and pollen — toxic to insects. In 2014, the National Wildlife Refuge System decided to phase out the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on refuge lands.

In response to the bee-loss reports, the U.S. Agriculture Department began conducting annual surveys of honeybee colony health in 2009. USDA surveys showed that the number of managed U.S. honeybee colonies dropped from 5 million in 1945 to 2.5 million in 2014.

For people more focused on the health of native bees, the picture is less simple. “We have little or no population data on the 20,000 species of native bees in the world,” says Watkins. This includes the 4,000 or so species in the United States.

Lamar Gore
A monarch butterfly feeds on showy milkweed at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

The monarch butterfly, beloved by many, has become a symbol of pollinators in trouble.

For decades, hundreds of millions of the familiar orange-and-black butterflies flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer upon their return from Mexico. Their population has dropped by as much as 80 percent in recent years. That decline has coincided with the widespread loss of their host plant (milkweed) and nectar sources (wildflowers) and the increased use of neonicotinoids tied to agriculture and development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with schools, communities and partners across the nation to plant more native milkweed and other nectar sources.

In August 2014, the Service received a petition to list the monarch under Endangered Species Act. The Service is expected to make a recommendation on the request by June 2019.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help.

One good first step: Plant some wildflowers. Even a pot of coneflowers can help.

“Making a space for wildflowers at any level is helpful to pollinators,” says Watkins. That holds true, he says, “whether you have a farm, a garden or you’re in an apartment in the city and setting out a pot of black-eyed Susans on your balcony or windowsill.”

While monarch caterpillars rely solely on milkweed for food, the adult butterflies feed on many different kinds of flowers. Ensure a continued nectar supply by planting a variety of flowering plants. Include plants that flower at different times of the growing season. Find out which plants are right for your part of the country here or here.

Brian Lubinski
A rufous hummingbird feeds at a flower at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Birds can be pollinators, too. In the continental United States, hummingbirds are especially important pollinators of wildflowers.

Hummingbirds seek out nectar-producing plants by color, not by smell. They’re attracted to the colors red, yellow and orange.

Perennial plants that attract hummingbirds include bee balms, columbines, trumpet creeper, daylilies, cardinal flower, sages and lupines.

Ricardo Colon-Merced
The lesser long-nosed bat is an important pollinator of cacti in the American Southwest. (Photo: Courtesy of Bat Conservation International/Bruce D. Taubert)

 

Surprised? Don’t be. Bats are important pollinators, too. “More than 520 flowering plants depend on bats as pollinators,” says Micaela Jemison, communications director for Bat Conservation International, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s 1,300-plus bat species. “Many species of bats have elongated snouts and long tongues specially adapted to eating and dispersing pollen.”

In the desert Southwest, the agave plant relies mainly on long-nosed bats to pollinate its flowers. The tequila industry relies on the bats, too; without agave reproduction, there would be no tequila.

Read more about bats as pollinators here.

Read about some of the other animals that can be pollinators, too.

Lisa Hupp
A bee seeks out pollen from a coneflower. (Photo: Jamie Weliver/USFWS)

 

Honeybees are not native to North America. European settlers brought hives with them for honey production in the 1600s.  Today, commercial honeybees play an important role in the production of many important crops.

But many see honeybee decline as a danger sign for native bees and other pollinators.

“The reality is that because honeybees are an agricultural commodity, they have political horsepower,” says Watkins. “Without the attention being paid to honeybees, we probably wouldn’t have attention being paid to native bees.”

Reggie Forcine
The rusty-patched bumblebee, once common across much of the continental United States, received federal protection in March as an endangered species. (Photo: Dan Mullen/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

In March, Bombus affinis, aka the rusty-patched bumblebee, earned a dubious honor. It became the first bumblebee species to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Once abundant across 28 states, the rusty-patched bumblebee has declined dramatically since the late 1990s. Now, only a few small, scattered populations remain in nine states and one Canadian province.

Placing the bee under federal protection, says Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius, “will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline” and save the bee from extinction.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
Members of Girl Scout troops 5912 and 6149 display soil-covered hands after starting 80 native plants at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 2015 planting was meant to help monarch butterflies and other native pollinators. (Photo: Lisa Cox/USFWS)

 

Restoring native habitat – including milkweed and wildflowers – comes naturally to national wildlife refuges. Refuge staff involve school groups and Scout troops in planting efforts. While kids get their hands dirty, they learn how they’re helping pollinators and why that matters.

Here are some Refuge System properties with pollinator gardens that you can visit.

Contact your local refuge to find out how your group can take part in a pollinator planting effort. Scroll down this page to see listing by refuge name or zip code.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
In Philadelphia, Terry Williams from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum helps community activist Regina Young create a raised bed for a new neighborhood pollinator garden. Williams is the refuge’s Student Conservation Association community crew leader. Young is executive director of Empowered Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood nonprofit. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

 

Many refuges also help local communities build pollinator gardens closer to home.

Working together with neighborhood partners, urban refuges in cities such as Philadelphia and Houston are using such projects as bridges to area residents who are eager for more connections to nature.

Want to help your community create a pollinator garden? Here’s how to get started.

campers conduct a water-quality sampling test
A student at Mountain Heritage High School in western North Carolina helps plant a pollinator garden behind her school, with support from the Service and several partners. (Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS)

 

Many schools across the country are joining “Save the Monarch” efforts by creating pollinator gardens in their schoolyards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers help and guidance to some of these school efforts.

Save Our Monarchs, a Service partner, offers free milkweed and pollinator seed packets to all schools that sign up for its pollinator garden program.

 

Some resources on pollination:
Monarch Watch
Monarch Joint Venture
Xerces Society
Pollinator Partnership
Journey North
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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What’s the Buzz About Pollinators?

bumblebee

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day AllianceEaton Conservation District

Pollinators have been making news headlines lately. There has been a greater push from the federal government for programs and funding supporting pollinator habitat. More research is being done on honeybee colony collapse syndrome. And recently, the rusty patched bumblebee has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

So what’s the big deal about pollinators? Why should we care? Let’s look at some facts:

  • More than 100,000 different animal species play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on this planet. Insects (bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles) are the most common, but as many as 1,500 species of birds and mammals also play a role. Vertebrate pollinators include: bats, hummingbirds, perching birds, lemurs, and even one lizard (gecko).
  • At least 3 bat, 5 bird, 24 butterflies/skippers/moths, 1 beetle, and 1 fly species identified as pollinators are federally endangered.in the United States.
  • Honey bees (the most commonly known pollinator) help pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year.
  • Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America.
  • 15% of the crops that make up the world’s food supply are pollinated by honey bees. At least 80% are pollinated by wild bees and other wildlife.
  • Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. This contributes 35% of global food production.
  • Declines in pollinators may make plants more vulnerable to extinction.
  • Pollinators support biodiversity. It’s been proven through studies. There is a correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity. Put simply, the more kinds of pollinators you have in an area, the more kinds of plants you will have.
  • Native bees are often more efficient at pollinating than commercially used European honey bees. Crops like blueberries and squash have bees that specialize on those plants and have developed better ways to dislodge pollen from their flowers.

Shall we go on? We could, there are more facts just like this out there. The point is, pollinators are important. We don’t often see the work they do, but we wouldn’t be able to continue our standard of life without them. Many of the food and fiber products we use every day depend on them.

Fortunately for us, there are a lot of ways to help our native pollinators. Whether you have an entire homestead or just an urban backyard, every little bit helps. After all, think about what you’re helping. Some of these pollinating insects don’t take up much space. 🙂

Here are a few tips to help you on your way. There are additional resources at the end of this article as well if you want to dive deeper.

  1. Use pollinator-friendly plants. Native plants are best, as these are the ones your native pollinators prefer. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, cherry, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.
  2. Choose a mixture of plants. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. Look into bloom times for plants and have a variety so there’s always something out there for them in every growing season.
  3. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape. Use them correctly and sparingly. Better yet, incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control (here are some websites that will help with that: 26 plants for attracting beneficial insects; Native plants for attracting predatory insects, New Moon Nursery; MSU Extension bulletin: Attracting beneficial insects with native flowering plants (pdf)).
  4. Accept some plant damage. Unfortunately, it’ll happen. You’re attracting insects like butterflies and moths whose larval stage may take a bite out of your plants. Your garden may not be picture perfect, but it’ll be perfect for them.
  5. Provide clean water. Pollinators need butterflies like water just like any other animal. A shallow dish, bowl, or bird bath with half-submerged stones will help. Just keep an eye on any standing water source as you will still have a breeding ground for mosquitoes if you don’t.
  6. Leave dead tree trunks. These help wood-nesting bees and beetles.
  7. Support land conservation in your community. Help create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure there’s good habitat around for your growing pollinator populations.

Pollinator Resources:

References:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Pollinators: https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/aboutpollinators.html
  2. White House Press Release, 6-20-2014, Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations
  3. Mother Nature Network, 9 extraordinary facts about North America’s native bees: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/9-extraordinary-facts-about-north-americas-native-bees

Plant These to Help Bees

Spring is upon us!

This comes as a welcome relief to many across the country. Spring in the northern states means warmer weather, sunshine, and the beginning of planting season. The world becomes green again.

Yet just what do you plant? There are so many choices. Maybe you’ll go with a vegetable garden, maybe a fruit tree, or maybe you want to plant some native trees and shrubs. Whatever you choose, you may consider supporting pollinators in your efforts. It’s easier than you think, even common plants you have in your yard can be good for bees and other pollinating insects.

This colorful illustration lists several plants you may consider.

bee plants

If you’d like a poster of this illustration, you can buy them on Etsy. (https://www.etsy.com/listing/174811929/16×20-plant-these-to-help-save-bees)

Gardening is a great springtime activity for adults and kids alike. And if you want even more fun spring activity ideas, check out this post from last year or this neat article from GoExploreNature.com.

Help Out Bees and Other Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

Pollinators have been making news. We depend on the numerous insects, birds, and mammals for the majority of the food we eat every day. These creatures serve a vital part of the ecosystem, but they’re disappearing fast.

In North America, most of our pollinators are of the insect variety – native bees, honeybees (and yes, honeybees are not native to the United States), beetles, flies, butterflies, etc. While much of the news stories have been focused on the large-scale problem and several large-scale solutions, there are several things you at home can do to help out pollinators in your very own backyard. No matter the size, any help at all is useful. Think of it this way, if everyone in your neighborhood planted one small plot of native wildflowers, or put one bee block (aka bee hotel), all of those small things would add up to a LOT of good habitat for our little insect friends.

National Geographic has put together a list of 9 simple things you can do at home. Bonus: many of these things help out more than just the pollinators.

9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home

This week the White House released new strategies to boost the insects so crucial to our food supply. Here’s how you can do your part to support pollinators at home.

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By Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic

If you like to eat, you can thank insects—in particular, pollinators such as honeybees, which provide much of the U.S. food supply. Sadly, pollinators in the United States have been in crisis for more than a decade.

Beekeepers continue to report major hive losses each year, while many native bees and other pollinating insects are likely in steep decline—for a host of reasons. This week the White House weighed in on how to make things better, releasing a new National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. (Related: “Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees.”)

Meanwhile, are there things the rest of us can do to help relieve pollinators’ plight?

Absolutely, says Ed Spevak, curator of invertebrates and director of the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. He talked to National Geographic about the best ways regular folks with lawns and gardens, wherever they live, can help the birds and the bees (and the butterflies).

Go Native

Choose native plants in a variety of shapes and colors to encourage diversity. Remember that native wildflowers will be better adapted to your climate than exotics. And one size doesn’t fit all: There are over 4,000 bee species in North America (some 20,000 worldwide) ranging from two millimeters to an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, so blossoms should vary in species and size, too. (Read “Quest for a Superbee” in National Geographic magazine.)

Keep It Blooming

Among your native plants, make sure something is blooming each season (spring, summer, and fall). Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need to feed regardless of the date.

Save the Queen

Newly emerging bumblebee queens need spring-blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees. Bumblebees, unlike, honeybees, have an annual cycle. New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they find a place to hibernate for the winter. When the insects emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies. (See beautiful, intimate portraits of bees.)

Plant Milkweed

Adding milkweed to your garden provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but don’t forget nectar sources for the adults, such as flowers that bloom in late summer. Adults get especially hungry in the fall as they head south to their overwintering sites in Mexico.

Save Money on Mulch

Leave a little bare ground. Most species of bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way (Read more about creating a sustainable home and garden.)

Picture of man opening beehive on a honeybee farm

Bret Adee opens a beehive in Lost Hills, California, home to Adee Honey Farms, the world’s largest commercial beekeeping operation.
Photograph by Anand Varma, National Geographic

Offer Bee Real Estate

Install a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. (Or, build one yourself.) You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t done it for you). This offers habitat to the many bee species that nest in pre-existing holes.

Make a Border

By bordering your fruits and vegetables with native flowers, you’ll improve pollination of your crops and also support bees when the crops stop blooming. It will also attract and support other pollinators such as wasps and hover flies that control crop pests. (See National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 10 gardens.)

Go Easy on the Chemicals

Pesticides can affect more than pests. Adding plants that draw natural pest-eaters (see above) and “companion planting”—including plants that naturally repel pests, such as garlic for aphids and basil for tomatoes—are good strategies to reduce chemical needs, according to organic gardeners. Maintaining healthy soil to keep plants’ immune systems strong can also help.

Get Involved

Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership or the Honeybee Health Coalition. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).