Saturday, April 4, 2015

Native Pollinators, Part 1

"Charismatic mini-fauna"
It’s likely that most people reading this are familiar with the conservation issues related to the European Honeybee and the Monarch Butterfly, animals I refer to as “charismatic mini-fauna.”  Of course the honeybee is economically important to the pollination of numerous food crops as well as its honey production, and the monarchs are the bright, lilting ballet stars of summer gardens that fly thousands of miles to winter in Mexico.  These characteristics endow them with popularity and publicity, but they are not alone in the pressures they face to survive the chemically dangerous, habitat-poor environment of 2015 and beyond. Invertebrates of all types, from wasps to snails, face enormous challenges which they have no power to control. Lynnhaven River NOW was created to help restore the habitat of a very charismatic and tasty invertebrate, the Lynnhaven Oyster.  From this single idea arose an amazing web of activities that benefit animals and plants of all types throughout the watershed.

Some plants, such as pine trees, are able to pollinate using only the wind, as your soon-to-be-yellow car will attest, but the majority of plants need an agent to fill this role.  Native pollinators of all types, principally bees, wasps, beetles, flies, moths and butterflies, carry out this work in a bewildering variety of ways.  Some are specific to a single plant, some are attracted to certain plant families, and some are generalists.  Many emerge in timing with their host plant’s blooming, and live brief adult lives, while some carry on for months, even overwintering in a torpid state to start the next generation the following spring.

Mining bees (Andrena sp.) are an interesting example of pollinators timing their emergence to coincide with the arrival of the blossoms they help pollinate. Some species of these bees,
beginning in the erratic weather of late February and early March, tunnel their way out of the sandy nesting burrows dug and provisioned by their mothers the previous year, and fly up into the trees to find mates, dine and do their pollinating work.  Like most of the “solitary” bees and wasps, the life cycle of the mining bee is interesting, but obscured by the fact that up to 11 months of it are spent in burrows of different sorts.  Most people hardly know of their existence, much less how important they are.  

Buzz About Bees

It is possible, however, for you to meet many of these charming and interesting characters face to face right in your own yard.  By planting native flowering plants and herbs such as oregano and thyme and paying just a little bit of attention, you will be surprised at the new neighbors who show up for dinner.  Laney and I live in a condo, but we have managed to
create a (mostly small container) garden that attracts and supports many species of beautiful little animals.  Because of the relative environmental stability of where we live, we know that the bumblebees that visit us this summer are the offspring of the ones that visited us last summer.  That we are sustaining generation after generation is a delightful thing to think about when they start to reappear.

So just say no to impatiens!  And pesticide.  By planting natives and herbs, you will be helping in the conservation of these wonderful, colorful, and vitally important creatures.

Here are some good resources to help get you started:

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation/

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Guest writer: Robert Brown, LRNow Stewardship and Access Committee

No comments:

Post a Comment