Pollinators – What’s the Buzz?

Mary Ewell Climate Change, Sustainability

What an exciting summer it was (and for many reasons)! Most of my work tends to take place in forests. However, I was fortunate to work in a variety of open areas in southeastern Vermont along the Appalachian Trail (AT) and throughout the Monadnock Region. This included surveys for plants and wildlife in areas managed as hayfields, pastures, and openings created for scenic views. For wildlife, my main focus was on birds but I was constantly reminded of other animals as they buzzed around me, moving from wildflower to wildflower. These bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths were collecting food while pollinating their gracious hosts.

It is easy to take these small creatures for granted but they play such a vital role to our existence. In their 1996 book, The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan estimated that animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Humanity depends on these industrious pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat. In addition, pollinators are part of the intricate web that supports the biological diversity in ecosystems, which helps sustain our quality of life.

In addition, abundant and healthy populations of pollinators can improve fruit set and quality. For agriculture, this increases production per acre. In the wild, biodiversity increases and wildlife food sources increase.The loss of commercial bee hives to Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious concern for the health of honey bees in our nation. Conservation biologists are also concerned about declines in native and wild bee abundance and species diversity.

Besides honey bees, about 450 other bee species live in the eastern United States. Wild bees and other insects are important pollinators of cultivated and natural landscapes, but conversion of the landscape to residential and commercial uses alters or eliminates natural bee habitats. Often, developed landscapes are not managed to create or enhance bee life. In addition, many insecticides and herbicides are either toxic to bees or destroy their habitats by killing flowers that provide bees with nectar and pollen.

All these factors are contributing to the loss of bee populations and diversity. So, as a landowner you can do your part to help our native pollinators thrive!

Plant a patch of native wildflowers and a vegetable garden to attract and feed these vital insects. You will be playing an important role in providing much needed ecological services to help protect pollinators and maintain biodiversity. You can do all this while enjoying the many fruits and vegetables as a result of these hardworking pollinators.

If you wish to learn more about pollinators there is an upcoming event in Keene. The Cheshire County Conservation District is holding its 68th Annual Meeting on Tuesday, December 10th at the Historical Society of Cheshire County. Keynote speaker Alan Eaton, Entomologist and UNH Cooperative Extension Professor, will be discussing pollinator conservation.

For more information or to register for the event contact the Conservation District at 756-2988 ext. 115 or info@cheshireconservation.org.

Also, there are a variety of resources available to landowners who wish to learn more about pollinators and how to create and maintain pollinator habitats, including:

New England Pollinator Handbook developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Xerces Society 

Jeffry Littleton is the principal ecologist for Moosewood Ecological LLC located in Chesterfield, NH. He assists clients with conservation and land management planning, as well as landscape design and installation. He is also adjunct faculty at Antioch University New England and board member for the Monadnock Sustainability Network, a 501c3 whose mission is to encourage sustainable living practices and resource conservation in the region.