The world needs pollinators, but they’re in peril
Plant pollen might be an annual irritant to allergy sufferers, but it is essential for the reproduction of native vegetation that provides food and shelter to all kinds of animals. Spreading this powdery substance around through pollination keeps plants fertilized, ensuring the production of fruits and seeds that will spawn a future generation.
Some plants can complete this process on their own and some will rely on wind or water to get the job done. But most will rely on pollinators — animals that distribute the pollen just by moving among plants in search of their own food.
Because of this important role they play, pollinators are responsible for helping in the production of one-third of human food sources. They continually move among blooming plants, spreading pollen from spring to fall, and their population is a key indicator of an ecosystem’s overall health.
Many different kinds of animals serve as pollinators: birds, butterflies, moths and even bats. But most people associate this important task with bees. There are about 4,000 species of bees in the United States. Some, like the rusty patched bumble bee, have declined in population so dramatically that they are now federally protected.
There are several reasons for this decline. Some, like pests and pathogens, are difficult for humans to control. But the harm done by pesticides in yards and gardens across the nation is much more preventable.
Some species of bat have faced a different problem. They are drawn to larger flowers, like the one grown on the agave plants of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Lesser long-nosed bats rely on the nectar of these flowers to fuel their long migration flights, and the agave relies on bats for pollination.
But that nectar is also prized by humans as a food sweetener and an ingredient in some liquors, leading to overharvesting of the plant and a disruption of its symbiotic relationship with the bat.
Pollinators are also affected by habitat loss. When forests and meadows are cleared to make way for homes, businesses and even agriculture, the natural shelter and food sources of pollinators are greatly diminished.
In 2015, the Virginia Department of Transportationbegan creating pollinator gardens along state-maintained roads and properties. They are planted with native species to attract and feed pollinators, as well as being featured at rest stops and park-and-ride areas where the public can enjoy them and learn about the importance of pollinators.
What You Can Do!
- Plant native species. Native plants are essential to pollinators and other wildlife, and they’re easy to care for because they’ve adapted to your soil and climate for many years.
- Relax your lawn maintenance habits. Adjust your mowing height or mow less frequently to allow taller grass where pollinators can safely roam. Skip the fall raking, allowing fallen leaves to remain as a shelter for them.
- Limit your use of pesticides. If you must use one to address a particular problem, see if you can choose one made specifically for that plant — instead of one that kills plants in general. And follow the directions carefully.
- Check out The Wildlife Center of Virginia to learn more about the wild animals around you, and how you can help keep them safe.