Monday, June 22, 2009

Pollinator Week 2009

This week, June 22-28, is National Pollinator Week. Pollinators have been in the news recently due to concerns about colony collapse disorder among honeybees. Other pollinating insects may also struggle in the face of indiscriminate pesticide use and loss of key host plants and habitats. This really should not be. There are many areas in which wildlife conservation and human interests conflict; preserving threatened species may mean sacrificing some economic benefit or real estate development. Pollination is not one of them. This is one area in which insects, birds, and humans can work together for mutual benefit.

First off, what is a pollinator? A pollinator is any animal that transfers pollen from the male to the female parts of a flower. Most famous, of course, are bees. In addition to bees, there are a large number of other insects, such as flies and butterflies that accomplish the same task. Birds, such as hummingbirds and honeyeaters, and mammals such as bats may also assist. Pollination benefits the pollinators because they usually receive some reward, such as nectar, in exchange for unconsciously spreading pollen. The plants benefit by being able to produce seeds for future summers. We benefit by eating the fruit of their fertilization or having pretty flowers to admire.

So what threats do they face, and what can we do help pollinators? As with most vulnerable wildlife, a key factor is habitat loss. As more natural habitat is replaced by subdivisions and economic development, key host plants for larvae and adults can disappear, to be replaced by asphalt or a grass-based monoculture. A solution to this problem is to increase plant diversity by planting pollinator gardens, with native plants appropriate for your area. State-based native plant societies are a good source of information on appropriate plantings, as are the NAPPC's regional guides.

A second problem is pesticide use, which can sometimes kill off beneficial or neutral insects in addition to the relatively few target species. To prevent harm to pollinators (or insect predators of pest insects), use pesticides only as a last resort. Instead, try the methods outlined by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as integrated pest management.

Some individuals have also taken to bee-keeping, but not all towns permit this. In fact, many places ban bee-keeping (or did until very recently). That may change as bee-keeping becomes more popular and local governments start to feel pressure from residents. Until then, it is best to check local regulations before building a beehive.