Just in Time for Earth Day: Landscape Planning for Pollinators

These tips will help you design a landscape that feeds the many creatures that rely on flower pollen.
Apr 21, 2016 7:00 AM ET

Pollinators are a crucial component of an ecosystem and are instrumental in the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants and two-thirds of the world’s crop species. A diverse group fulfills this important work, including bats, bees, birds, flies, moths, wasps, butterflies and beetles, many of which are in rapid decline. A decade ago, beekeepers in the United States and abroad started noticing concerning drops in honeybee populations. 

“Typically beekeepers lost 15 percent of their hives each year, from winter starvation and a variety of factors,” says Eric Lee-Mader, pollinator conservation co-director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Around 2004 and 2005, beekeepers began to lose 30, 40 or even 50 percent of the hive population. There has been a struggle to figure out what is going on. There are probably multiple stress factors: parasites, persistent pesticides and habitat loss, working together to create a broad landscape that is inhospitable.”

Although the decline in honeybee populations has a concerning economic impact, it may be indicative of a larger issue. Because honeybee populations are managed, population losses are more quantifiable, while declines and even extinctions of native pollinators are less obvious, but of great importance. Native pollinators provide essential agricultural services, estimated at $3 billion annually in the United States.

“We have a tremendous diversity of wild bee populations, with about 4,000 species that are truly native to North America, such as leafcutter bees, bumble bees and mining bees—that have evolved in North America and are highly adapted to native crops,” says Lee-Mader. “Honeybees are not going extinct, but we do have native bee extinctions that are taking place right here in the United States. There are a couple of new conservation status reviews that estimate that about one-third of 50 native bee species are extinct. The rusty-patched bumble bee, for example, was once very common and could go extinct in 2015.”

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