Honey bees aren’t the only pollinators suffering
You’ve heard about the dangers facing honey bees- pests, diseases, and pesticides have stressed the species to a critical point. This threatens to make using honey bees for pollination services much more costly and difficult. The pollination of billions of dollars worth of crops hangs in the balance. However, we have thousands of native pollinators in the United States that are more than able to take up the challenge. When honey bees were brought to this continent along with European explorers in the 1600s, they came to an ecosystem already teeming with pollinators.
Native bees and other pollinators
There are around 4000 species of native bees in North America alone. That’s not to mention the many species of butterflies, bats, birds, beetles and flies that contribute to pollination as well. These native pollinators, especially native bees, are in general far more efficient at pollinating than honey bees. They are also much less defensive and aggressive than honey bees and are already living in the natural lands around us. Our native pollinators are the perfect solution to the problem of pollination gaps left behind by struggling honey bee colonies. It is of great importance that we work towards the preservation of these native pollinators- something you can easily do at home.
Negative impacts on native pollinators
Our native pollinators face some similar dangers as honey bees. Pests and diseases, spread from commercial or hobbyist beekeepers, are thought to have wreaked havoc on bumblebees in particular. Pesticide exposure also damages pollinator populations. Research has shown that even exposure to pesticides at levels that will not kill the individual, known as sub-lethal exposure, causes enough brain damage that learned skills are forgotten. A recent study found neonicotinoids, a type of commonly used pesticide, present in ¾ of the honey that was inspected. While the levels of these pesticides were listed below the level safe for human consumption, the effects of continued exposure are unknown. Surprisingly, homeowners spray larger quantities of pesticides than commercial agriculture. If you must spray pesticides, do so at night and while flowers are not in bloom if possible to avoid pollinators coming in contact with wet chemicals.
Habitat loss and restoration
The last major danger facing our native pollinator species is loss of habitat, both for nesting and feeding. Here are some simple steps you can take to help restore some of the habitat that has been lost.
- Provide nesting sites for pollinators by leaving a section of your property untouched or put in supplemental housing
- Leave bare soil, dead trees, hollow stems, and reeds, which are all prime real estate for pollinators
- Keep in mind that some butterfly species require specific host plants for their young- an example is monarchs and milkweed. If you are looking to attract a specific species, research what their choice host plant is and make sure your yard is appropriately equipped
- For pollinator food, try and plant your garden in such a way as to have at least one plant in bloom at all times during the growing season. Our native pollinators prefer plants native to the area, however most are not picky
- Place your plants in groups of three to five rather than single plants spaced out. This forms a larger and more attractive bullseye site for potential diners
- If your property is devoid of water, set up a bird bath or similar shallow dish with gravel at the bottom to act as a landing pad. Another option is to plant something with water collecting adaptations, such as a cup plant
In planning and designing for the future, including native wildlife habitat is essential in order to reap the benefits that they can provide. Taking the steps listed above goes a long way towards re-establishing pollinator populations in your area, in turn building a healthier and more resilient ecosystem.