Although pollinators are busy year-round, the third week in June is celebrated as National Pollinator Week, this year falling on June 19-25, 2017. With an endless supply of reasons to designate a moment in time to appreciate a person, place or thing, why is it that humans shine the spotlight on pollinators and thank them for the work they do for not just a day, but a whole week? If you’ve eaten today or enjoyed the view in your gardens, you’ll find the answer why: pollinators provide invaluable services most of us take for granted every day.
Pollination is the process by which pollen, is moved from flower to flower by animals and insects such as birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, and bees or by other mammals such as humans, or even the wind. When pollen is transferred from one plant to another, genetic material is also moved, leading to fertilization and successful fruit production. This simple yet essential transportation system accounts for forty billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products annually (Pollinator Partnership).
Pollination is included in a long list of what humans consider “ecosystem services,” or work that the forces of nature perform that sustain all life on earth. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers pollination in a list of other priceless services such as clean air and water made possible through the evapotranspiration process providing purification, flood control offered by marshes, dunes and other riparian, soil enriched with nutrients made available through the process of decomposition, and more. Despite our dependence on these processes, we take them for granted every day. Celebrating these ecosystems through special days set aside for observation helps us appreciate these priceless services provided by nature.
In 1997, the U.S. Senate U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior, the US Senate designated National Pollinator Week to address declining pollinator populations that are vital to our agricultural systems as well as ecosystems services. The Pollinator Partnership estimates that “worldwide, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines all need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend.” Despite our dependence on the services provided by pollinators, there is evidence that pollinator species are disappearing from their natural areas and evidence of their decline in managed areas as well.
Unfortunately, 2017 marks a disturbing milestone for pollinators: in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty patch bumblebee as an endangered species, the first designation for bee species in the continental U.S. (NPR). In 2016, a U.N.-sponsored report concluded from 3,000 sources of scientific research that nearly 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are facing extinction. Given the fact about 75% of the world’s crops depend on pollination for food, it is imperative we take action at home and in our communities to protect pollinator species from further decline.
During National Pollinator Week, environmental organizations across the U.S. like Southern Highlands Reserve help to bring awareness to the plight of pollinators and promote their protection. Here’s what you can do to help support pollinators at home:
- Select plants that attract pollinators and are native to your area, especially plants that provide food for pollinators at all stages of life, larval and adult
- Reduce lawn areas and increase flower beds
- Plant milkweed for monarchs and other butterfly species
- Purchase local produce and select organic when possible
- Reduce the use of pesticides in your garden and lawn
- Volunteer at your local botanical garden and other pollinator friendly groups
The next bite you enjoy, take a moment to thank a pollinator.
Pollinator Partnership: http://pollinator.org/pollination.htm
Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/eco-research/ecosystem-services
National Public Radio (NPR): http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/11/509337678/u-s-puts-first-bumblebee-on-the-endangered-species-list