Pollinator Week, recognized last week — June 21 to 27, is a great time to start getting involved in helping pollinators because they are in major decline. Here are some tips from the Pollinator Partnership on why pollinators are so important in our lives and how we can help them.
What is pollination? Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems. About 85 percent of all flowering plant species need help from animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization. About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals. Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees.
Why are pollinators important? Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning they are critical to the health of ecosystems. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops and contributes to healthy plants everywhere. An estimated one-third of all foods and beverages is delivered by pollinators. In the U.S.A., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually.
Here is how you can help
• Reduce your impact. Reduce or eliminate your pesticide use, increase green spaces, and minimize urbanization. Pollution and climate change affect pollinators too!
• Plant for pollinators. Create pollinator-friendly habitat with native flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and homes. For information on what to plant in your area, download a free eco-regional guide online at: www.pollinator.org
• Tell a friend. Educate your neighbors, schools, and community groups about the importance of pollinators. Host a dinner, a pollinated food cook-off or other event and invite your friends.
• Join the Pollinator Partnership. Go to www.pollinator.org and click on “Get Involved.” Be part of a growing community of pollinator supporters.
Fortunately, help is on the way for pollinators in Wisconsin through the creation of the Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Fund (WPPF) according to a press release from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. A new half-million-dollar anonymous donation will support work on Wisconsin native pollinators that are in decline through WPPF.
“We decided it was time to support pollinators because they are the unsung heroes of the special ecosystems we enjoy in Wisconsin,” shared the donors, who wish to remain anonymous. “While they don’t come readily to mind when we think about Wisconsin’s natural areas, these tiny creatures are vital to supporting the habitats that plants and animals depend on.”
Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and birds, carry pollen from flower to flower helping many plants produce seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Despite their value to the economy and the natural world, pollinators are in decline in Wisconsin and across the globe and they need your help to protect and conserve them.
Loss of habitat for feeding and nesting, pesticide and herbicide use, invasive species, climate change, and diseases are all contributing factors to their decline. The federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee, for example, was once a common sight in the Midwest. However, in the past 20 years their populations have plummeted by 87 percent, and their natural range has shrunk to an estimated 0.1 percent.
Other species of concern in Wisconsin include the yellow-banded bumble bee, American bumble bee, the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly and Poweshiek skipperling, and the state endangered northern blue butterfly, regal fritillary, and phlox moth.
While some plant species can fertilize without the aid of pollinators, more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants and two-thirds of the world’s crop species are dependent on pollinators for reproduction.
“One in three mouthfuls of food and drink we consume are dependent on the work of pollinators,” says Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist Jay Watson. “Wisconsin crops that rely on pollinators, including apples, cherries, green beans, cucumbers, and cranberries, account for over $55 million in annual production.”
Native pollinators are equally important to natural communities like forests, prairies, marshes, sedge meadows, and lake dunes that can be found across Wisconsin. These communities also include Wisconsin’s 687 designated State Natural Areas that are home to the majority of the state’s endangered and threatened species, as well as species of special concern.
The Foundation’s Director of Conservation Programs, Caitlin Williamson, worked closely with conservation partners to advise the donors on strategies for the WPPF that align with statewide, regional, and national pollinator recovery plans.
The fund will support habitat creation and enhancement, research and monitoring, new staff positions for pollinator conservation in Wisconsin, as well as education and outreach efforts.
One key strategy of the fund will be to engage Wisconsin farmers in creating pollinator habitat on their agricultural land through practices like creating prairie strips, small areas of native plants on corn or soybean fields or utilizing precision agriculture like transforming low-yield farmland into pollinator habitat. Both strategies create habitat for wildlife while also benefiting farmland by reducing soil erosion and improving soil and water quality and wildlife habitat.
The Foundation will be seeking additional donations to the fund in the upcoming months that will be matched – up to $10,000 – by the anonymous donors. The Foundation will use these donations to create an endowment that will provide permanent funding for Wisconsin’s native pollinators.
“Pollinator conservation will take decades of work, and long-term sustainable support,” says Williamson. “But the great thing about pollinators is that everyone can get involved, from individuals, to schools, to businesses, to farmers. Our small actions, combined together, can make a big difference.”
Donations to the fund can be made online at www.WisConservation.org/donate and should be designated to the “Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Fund.”
The private Nature Education Center in Fifield operated by Tom & Mary Lou Nicholls is open seasonally by appointment only.