Bugs—the creepy crawly stuff of our nightmares. We don’t want them where we live, we don’t want them in our food and we certainly don’t want them scampering on our bodies. Yet bugs are essential to our lives and our food sources, as they serve as “pollinators” to nurture our farms, forests, prairies and gardens.
A variety of animals, including birds, bats, monkeys, lizards and others can serve as pollinators, but insects are far and away the most common of all the world’s pollinators. An especially valuable pollinator species—the honey bee—has been in the news of late as honey bee hive populations have declined precipitously.
Economic importance of pollinators
- The honey bee accounts for more than 2/3 of the $24 billion contributed to the U. S. economy by all pollinators and enables the production of at least 90% of the commercially grown crops in the United States.
- Worldwide, 35% of global food production depends on animal pollinators, and collectively these pollinator species are responsible for 87 of the 115 leading food crops.
Why our pollinators are in trouble
- Habitat loss is a primary cause of concern for pollinators, as the development and extractive industries and intensive row crop agriculture have diminished the biodiverse natural areas that pollinators require to forage and reproduce.
- Pesticides, including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, not only kill the intended pest but often destroy beneficial ones as well, including important pollinators. Pesticide residues can remain in the environment for multiple generations.
- Alien species, i.e. non-native animals (e.g. Emerald Ash Borer, European Starling, Norway Rat, to name a few) often have fewer predators and out-compete native species.
- Climate change directly affects our pollinators, as critters adapted to one climate zone may be less able to adapt when that zone shifts.
What you can do to help pollinators
- National Pollinator Week takes place from June 20 to June 26. Celebrate by planting a mix of plants in your garden that provide pollen and nectar for all growing seasons.
- Grow plants and flowers in groups, rather than growing a plant in isolation.
- Seek planting advice from native plant landscaper specialists or your local botanic garden.
- Most importantly, convert your turf grass lawn or part of it to flowering plants.
- For an excellent reference to help guide your choices, please see the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s regional guides for your ecoregion.