Pollinators are what ecologists call keystone species. You know how an arch has a keystone. It’s the one stone that keeps the two halves of the arch together. […] If you remove the keystone, the whole arch collapses.
–May Berenbaum, PhD, Entomologist. From Silence of the Bees, PBS Nature.
Pollination is one of those essential processes of nature that often isn’t given much consideration, perhaps because it happens on such a small level that we usually don’t see it. Like the old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. However, without it we would be in a lot of trouble. In order for fruit and seeds to develop, pollen has to be transferred so that fertilization can occur. This has happened for millennia without much thought on our part, but with pollinator populations plummeting around the world it is time for us to start paying attention.
Very simply put, without sufficient numbers of pollinators we can’t grow the foods we need to survive. Everything from apples to avocados, coffee to cucumbers, and papaya to potatoes require help from our little friends. More than 1/3 of our food crops and 3/4 of our staple crops require the aid of insects, bats, and birds. Perhaps the most well-known pollinators are honeybees, which are responsible $19 billion in food crop pollination labor each year with bats, birds, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and even small mammals contributing another $71 billion. That is a lot of work! Unfortunately, habitat loss, irresponsible pesticide use, and disease are all taking their toll on pollinator populations.
The good news is that whether you have just a patio planter, a suburban yard, or a sprawling rural property you can help!
How to create a pollinator-friendly habitat on any scale!
- Give them food – Plant a variety of flowering plants, particularly native and wild flowers. Try to choose varieties that have overlapping flowering periods so that they provide a continuous food source throughout the year. If you are not sure what would be best in your area, check out this app.
- Give them water – You need water and so do they. By providing a convenient source of water our little friends don’t have to travel as far, thus decreasing stress and giving them more time to do their work. A bird bath or simply a bowl of water will work just fine. Be sure to float a few corks or sticks in it so they have a secure place to land. Oh, and freshen it up regularly so you don’t end up supporting the local mosquito population too.
- Give them shelter – Leave your door open and let them make themselves comfortable. Just kidding! Try to keep some areas of your yard wild if possible. If not, bushes and nearby tree lines will do the job. If you are crafty, you can even build them a pollinator hotel like the one below. If you are ambitious, start beekeeping!
- Give them a chance – Skip the pesticides and herbicides. Over use of these poisons, particularly in yards, has been a major contributor to pollinator population decline. If they must be used, please do so sparingly and try to use products that are the least harmful to our little friends.
- Give them a hand – Educate your friends and neighbors and encourage them to join you. This will make your efforts easier and increase the impact exponentially.
To learn more about pollinators and what you can do to help, visit pollinator.org.