Over the last 20 years, the population of pollinators has declined drastically. Despite a slight rebound recently, numbers are still low, resulting in serious and widespread ramifications.
According to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), three quarters of the world’s plants and 35% of our food crops need pollination to reproduce. Pollinators and plants are dependent on each other, and we are dependent on them for food.
With global food production tallying $600 billion per year, pollinators have a huge economic impact, too. Furthermore, farmer income from pollinated crops is almost $30 billion.
As you read this, a collection of environmental groups (including The David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ontario Nature and the Wilderness Committee) are taking to the court room to challenge the use of neonicotinoid-containing pesticides which are killing pollinators by the masses. (Learn more with this neonicotinoid Q&A.)
Pollinators & Their Relationship With Plants
Pollinators are vital for ecosystem survival by perpetuating plant species. In return, a stable ecosystem provides food, shelter, water, and breeding grounds for pollinators. When one part of the system is disrupted, the entire system is affected. Smaller populations of pollinators mean native plants will disappear, affecting wildlife and the food chain.
Food production also depends on pollinators. Pollinated flowers become fruit for food and seed, which is saved and planted the following season. Again, the plant species is allowed to continue. Without pollinators, our food supply would be at risk. Food security would become a more crucial issue than it already is, especially in developing countries.
The David Suzuki Foundation One of the biggest thread to pollinators is the use of neonics -
Bees, wasps, moths, birds, butterflies, and bats are a few of our precious pollinators. Sadly, they are suffering from habitat loss, climate change, and pesticide exposure.
Urban sprawl and construction destroy habitat, but they are not the only culprits. Farmers hurt the very critters they need when they plow up all their land for planting. Pollinators need the diversity of the wild grasses and flowers to survive.
Climate change is disrupting our ecosystems, and flowering times are changing. When pollinators come out of hibernation in spring, the food they need may have already bloomed. Late or early frosts may kill off flowers, too. The climate is unpredictable, and unfortunately we are all slow to adapt.
Pesticide use hurts pollinators in two ways. Herbicides kill off the plants they need for food, breeding, and shelter. If the plants are not dead, they are toxic to our little friends. Pesticides poison bees that feed on crops, and then the whole hive is affected, creating massive die-off.
Neonicotinoids, or neonics for short, are most at fault. Made from nicotine, they affect the bees neurologically, disrupting their learning, memory, and navigation. The innate way they forage is impaired. They can’t eat, and they die. The European Union and the US are pushing for a ban on neonics.
What You Can Do At Home?
- First of all, always garden organically.
Ditch the chemicals, which are hurting our pollinators. Before there were pesticides, there was only organic gardening. Think about that!
- Create pollinator habitat in your yard.
Pollinator habitat will provide food, shelter, nesting, and water. Plant large colorful groupings of flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, annuals, and perennials for visual attraction. Be sure something is in bloom all season long. Attract native bees with native plants. Learn more here.
- Leave part of your yard wild.
Don’t mow it, rake it, or plant it, and leave dead trees standing for overwintering bees. Make sure there are patches of bare ground for ground nesters.
- Get a local beekeeper to install hives in your yard.
You will be helping to pollinate the plants in your neighborhood, and you’ll probably get some honey out of it!
- Plant a butterfly meadow of needed host and food plants.
Monarch butterfly numbers are crashing, but you can plant native milkweed as a host plant for breeding. Check with the Xerces Society for proper plants for your region.
- Learn to protect pollinators and their ecosystems
Pollinator Partnership is an excellent resource to learn how to protect pollinators. Download a guide of native plants for your area, and learn how to use them. Get your friends and family involved in their Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
- Take care of the earth!
Its ecosystems are a delicate balance of the interaction of all living things. When one facet is disrupted, the entire system is affected. Protect the pollinators for the sake of the earth and everything living on it!