Pollinator Benefits, CCD, and Citizen Science Takeaways for Pollinator Week 2012

Pollinator Week Banner

Pollinator Week Banner

I love to watch the bees busily working the lavender blossoms in my front yard, but I noticed there were more carpenter bees and others I couldn’t identify than honey bees. I don’t see the honey bees as often as I used to. With bees under attack from Colony Collapse Disorder, it makes me glad to know there are other pollinators to fall back on, but how important are pollinators to us humans anyway?

What are the Fruits of Pollinator Labor?

National Pollinator Week, June 18 – 24, is a good time for us to learn more about what these tiny insects do for us. We tend to think of bees when we think of pollinators, but there are thousands of pollinators from fuzzy bumblebees to tiny wasps to beetles and flies. Without pollinators we’d lose many of our favorite foods — from almonds to squash — to say nothing of our beautiful flowers. Humble though they may be, they do a big job by pollinating millions of acres of crops and wilderness. They keep our biomes functioning.

Carpenter Bee on lavendar

Carpenter Bee on lavendar. Photo by Sara Mann

The Pollinator Partnership, the sponsor for Pollinator Week, says that

“about 75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators and over 200,000 species act as pollinators. Of those 200,000, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals.”

The rest – over 199,000 – are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths. That’s a lot of pollinating! You can enjoy more Fast Facts about pollinators by visiting their site. For example,

“In the United States, pollination by honey bees and other insects produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually!”

Or

“Worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the resources on which we depend.”

So the issue of pollinator health is an important one. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been afflicting bees since 2006, but all pollinators are suffering from the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc., as well as habitat loss. It’s kind of a “perfect storm” scenario as they struggle to survive in an increasingly “insect hostile” environment. Bees themselves have been under attack from a number of other sources such as the Varroa mite or a tracheal mite that attacks their lungs.

What is the Latest on Colony Collapse Disorder?

I talked with Michael E. Wilson of the University of Tennessee about Bee Health. Michael said that there are nearly 20,000 species of bees alone;  bees are often the most efficient pollinators since most collect pollen and nectar to feed their young. I asked him about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and if scientists know yet what’s killing the bees. Although there are many possible culprits, the cause of decline in honey bees is related to an array of honey bee diseases and environmental issues including pesticides and the loss of food sources in the landscape. Michael suggested a documentary called Colony, the Movie to learn more about CCD and the plight of the bees.

Bee on sunflower

Bee on sunflower. Photo by Sara Mann

Ways to Help Bees and Other Pollinators Through Citizen Science, Projects, and Programs

Next I asked Michael what was most important for people to know about bees and other pollinators. He said that while there are many factors, habitat loss is a major contributor, not only for bees, but for other pollinators as well. Then I asked Michael how we can help. He suggested having “safe areas” in your yard where you don’t use pesticides or other harmful chemicals. In fact, there’s a project called Honey Bee Haven, where you can take the Honey Bee Pledge and put your garden on the Bee Haven map. It’s a fun project to do with kids, too.

Another thing scientists are doing is enlisting the aid of beekeepers to track Colony Collapse and try to determine how many bees are being lost. The project is called the Bee Informed Partnership. This form of citizen science helps scientists gather information from all over the US. If you’re a beekeeper, you might want to participate in this way.

You can also grow flowers that provide nectar for pollinators. You can even plant a butterfly garden, since butterflies are pollinators too. Another great citizen science project to do with kids is the Great Sunflower Project, since pollinators love sunflowers, and all pollinators are going to benefit from having more flowering plants. Some of the ones I think of first are bee balm, of course, and lavender and sunflowers . . . but there are many sources of lists of plants available to provide you with more options, like the Honey Bee Conservancy, or check with your local Extension office or website to find the plants that are best suited for your area.  To learn more about the native pollinators in your area, you can also visit the USDA native pollinator site.  Bee informed, bee thoughtful, bee kind, bee a friend to pollinators!

What pollinators do you find in your back yard?

Honey bee (left) and native squash bee (right) visiting a squash flower.

Honey bee (left) and native squash bee (right) visiting a squash flower. Photo by Michael E Wilson

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