Native pollinators essential for healthy ecosystems

Pollinators are essential to our environment. They provide essential services in nature and are also necessary for healthy, productive agricultural ecosystems for fruit and seed production. Although some plants rely on wind or water to transfer pollen from one flower to the next, pollinators help 75 percent of the world’s wild and cultivated flowering plants reproduce. There are more than 200,000 species of pollinators in the world. Common Minnesota pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, bats, and hummingbirds.

Land use changes, improper and excessive use of pesticides, and invasive plant species have caused a significant decline in native pollinator populations. Changes in habitat can lead to a reduction in food sources and sites for mating, nesting, roosting, and migration. This decline is very alarming since insect-pollinating crops directly contribute nearly $3 billion to the United States economy.  Preserving these habitats and creating new ones are very important.

Pollinators require two essential components in their habitat: somewhere to nest and flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen. Native plants are a great source of food for pollinators.  Creating foraging habitat not only helps the bees, butterflies and flies that pollinate these plants, but also results in beautiful, appealing landscapes.

Among the most common native pollinators are solitary bees, named because they do not assemble in hives or colonies. They pollinate valuable crops such as apples, alfalfa, watermelon, sunflowers, strawberries, and blueberries. Some solitary bees nest in sticks, dirt mounds, termite holes, construct domed nests, or abandoned beetle burrows. Most nest in the ground digging a tunnel in bare or partially vegetated, well-drained soil.

Bumblebees are social bees, because they live in colonies and share work. They nest in small cavities, such as abandoned rodent nests, under grass clumps, or in hollow trees or walls.

Butterflies and moths need a flower-rich habitat for egg laying.  They lay their eggs on the plant in which their larva will feed.  Monarchs, for example, only rely on species of milkweed for feeding. Swallowtails use a wide range of plants.

You may be wondering what you can do to protect pollinators and develop habitat. Pollinators need food throughout the season.  Even the narrowest strip of flowers will help bees. Providing a wide range of flowering plants is a practice we can do to improve the environment for pollinators.  Plants that bloom early in the spring and late in the fall are critical. Flowers should be available throughout the entire growing season from April through October.  Planting a native diversity of color, sizes, shapes and heights encourages the greatest number of species.

Minimizing pesticide use reduces mortality of pollinators. Avoid broadcasting herbicides over an entire area as valuable pollinator plan species may be affected. Reducing tillage causes less disruption of nesting habitat. Leaving logs, stumps, snags, and clumps of grass will also provide nesting sites.

For more information on creating and preserving native pollinator habitat, contact the Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District or the local Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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