King Conservation District and Xerces Society hosted a series of workshops that highlighted native pollinators and other beneficial insects. These events provided attendees with the latest science-based approaches to reversing pollinator declines and techniques to protect and manage habitat for these vital insects.
Bring on the Bugs!
by Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water
When someone says pollinators, I bet you think about honeybees. Did you know there are actually many types of native pollinators that are very important to the environment as well as to agriculture?
Native pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and other insects, fill an essential ecological niche. They support the reproduction of more than 85% of the world’s flowering plants and more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.
In the United States insect pollination is critical for many major crops, including alfalfa, almonds, apples, blackberries, blueberries, canola, cherries, cranberries, pears, plums, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelons.
In North America approximately 4,000 species of native bees can provide much of the pollination necessary for crops. Wild native bees save money for producers by providing free pollination services and increasing crop quality and quantity. On a bee-per-bee basis, native bees are actually more effective than honeybees at pollinating.
Native bees have other benefits over honey bees, such as foraging in colder and wetter conditions. Some native bees specialize in one type of flower, such as squash bees. Native bumble bees perform a unique and highly beneficial type of pollination called buzz-pollination, important for cross-pollination. Plus, if the population of one native bee species declines, other native bee species can fill the gap. And, if the honey bee industry continues to have troubles, native bees can fill in when honey bees are in short supply or more expensive.
Here are a few simple ideas to begin incorporating native bees and pollinators:
Have a diversity of flowering plants with overlapping blooming times so that bees can forage from early spring until late fall. Because native bees come in a range of sizes, it is important to provide flowers of various sizes, shapes, and colors.
Bees need places to nest. Native bees are solitary and don’t build the waxy or paper structures we associate with honey bees and wasps. Most nest in small tunnels or cells they construct underground, or those left behind by other insects. Some prefer the soft pith in cane plants like berries. Others prefer deserted rodent burrows. Habitat can be incorporated in field corners or along field edges.
Bees and other beneficial insects need protection from most pesticides and fungicides because researchers are finding both are deadly to insects. One way to reduce the effects of chemicals is to apply them at night after insects have “gone to bed”, or use organic methods of managing pests.
Beyond agriculture, beneficial insects and native pollinators — bees, butterflies, and other insects — are keystone species in most land-based ecosystems. Conserving our pollinating insects is critically important to preserving both wider biodiversity and healthy agricultural systems.
In North America, native pollinators are also at risk. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences released the report, Status of Pollinators in North America, which called attention to the alarming decline of our pollinators. The report called for increasing the awareness of and protecting native pollinator habitat. In response, the current Farm Bill makes native pollinators and their habitats a conservation priority for U.S. Department of Agriculture land managers and conservationists.