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Pollinators: Nature’s Essential Helpers

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Monday, June 22, 2015

Pollinators comprise a diversity of wild creatures, from birds and bats to butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and even the occasional land mammal or reptile. They ensure full harvests of crops and contribute to healthy plants.

What Are Pollinators? What Do Pollinators Do?

Pollinators are animals that move the pollen grains from flower to flower. Over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators, and of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals (Source: USDA Forest Service). The rest are insects, such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

What Is Pollination?

Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. It occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species by wind or animals. Successful pollination may require visits by multiple pollinators to a single flower. However, successful pollination results in healthy fruit and fertile seeds, which allows the plant to reproduce.

Why Are Pollinators Important?

Pollinators are essential to human survival. To produce seeds and reproduce, 75 to 95% of the world’s flowering plant species rely on animal pollinators. Pollinators provide services to over 180,000 different plant species, and more than 1,200 crops. This means that 1 out of every 3 bites of food you eat is available because of pollinators. Foods and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include: apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila.

In economic terms, pollinators add $217 billion to the global economy (Source: Pollinator Partnership). In the U.S., pollination by honeybees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually (Source: USDA Forest Service).

Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse. Pollinator health affects everyone.

Are Pollinators in Danger?

There is evidence worldwide that the population of pollinating animals is in decline. At least 2 bat and 13 bird species listed in the United States as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pollinators (Source: North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC)). Monarchs have seen a 90 percent decline in population in recent years (Source: Pollinator Partnership). At least 10 different bumble bee species in the U. S. are not spotted with normal frequency, and 4 seem to have disappeared from their normal ranges (Source: University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES)). The number of commercially managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. has declined from 5.9 million in the 1940s to 2.7 million in 1995. Feral bees, bees that are not domesticated, are essentially gone in the U.S. (Source: NAPPC).

Due to fewer natural pollinators and increased agricultural production, farmers have had to hire beekeeping companies to bring in hives to pollinate their crops. Honey bee hives are moved by truck in spring from their winter homes to areas where crops are in bloom. However, there is concern that moving honey bee hives around could be contributing to the spread of honey bee diseases and honey bee pests.

The large loss of pollinator numbers has alarmed many within the scientific and agricultural industry, who fear that the pollinator population decline has created a pollinator crisis, in which there are not enough pollinators to supply the demands of the agricultural industry. Regardless, experts believe that costs associated with growing fruits and vegetables will increase, thus increasing the cost of some fresh produce.

What Is the ANHC Doing to Help?

The ANHC maintains a System of Natural Areas that encompasses a wide range of natural communities and supports a rich diversity of animal and plant species. The natural areas that we protect provide valuable habitat and a diversity of native plants, both important factors for pollinator survival.

Stewardship activities on natural areas help to create openings in the forest canopy, allowing sunlight to break through and encourage the growth of herbaceous plants. This benefits pollinators and other protected species, such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). In addition, surveys of natural areas are compiled in the ANHC’s biodiversity database where results can be used to gauge the health and stability of rare species, identify high priority sites, develop conservation measures, and guide natural area management practices.

What Can I Do to Help?
  • Grow plants that are native to your region and provide nectar for adult insects and food for larvae.
  • Install houses for bats and native bees.
  • Design your garden so that there is a continuous succession of plants flowering from spring through fall.
  • Provide water for butterflies in shallow containers that won’t become a mosquito breeding area. Refill containers daily.
  • Provide hummingbirds with feeders and other birds with birdseed.
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use. If you must use pesticides, then choose the least toxic and most selective products, applying them at night when pollinators aren’t as active.

For more information about pollinators or National Pollinator Week, visit www.pollinator.org .

Related links:

USDA Forest Service Pollinator Fact Sheet: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/factsheet_pollinator.pdf

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy “Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health”: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/05/19/announcing-new-steps-promote-pollinator-health

National Strategy Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators: http://pollinator.org/fedhealthstrategy.htm

National Pollinator Garden Network’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge: http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NPGN_PressRelease_06032015.pdf

National Pollinator Garden Newtork: http://pollinators.wpengine.com/partners/



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