It’s not breaking news that pollinators are in peril. Both wild bees and honeybees are experiencing severe population loss. Monarch butterflies are in danger of going extinct. Over half of bat species in the United States are experiencing decline or are endangered. Other pollinators including moths and birds are also part of this devastating downward trend.
Pollinators are responsible for reproduction in up to 85% of flowering plants. This includes many species that are widely consumed by humans such as almonds, melons, berries, tomatoes, and more. The decline and disappearance of pollinators will have devastating and far reaching effects including increased food insecurity and accelerated species extinction. Without pollinators, a vital part of the food web will be removed.
Leading contributors to pollinator decline include pests, climate change, habitat loss, and increased use of pesticides. Mites and fungal infections have been extremely harmful to both honeybee colonies and other insects. Habitat loss due to increased urbanization and industrial farming has affected all pollinators. Climate change can confuse monarch butterflies and make it difficult for them to complete their annual migrations. Pesticide use not only kills insects we deem “annoying,” such as mosquitoes, but also doom important pollinator species.
Pollinator loss is a daunting problem to tackle. While awareness has increased around the issue in recent years, many of the problems pollinators face remain substantial issues that little has been done to address. While legislation, reform, and wide scale oversight regarding conservation is key to restoring pollinator populations, our individual actions are also crucial in helping these important creatures. Fortunately, there are some simple ways that we can help pollinators to thrive and hopefully allow their populations to recover. Below are some simple DIY projects and actions that can provide crucial pollinator habitat, reduce harmful substances, and advocate for our winged and furred friends.
Easy DIY Projects
1. Build a Pollinator Drinking Station:
Providing bees and butterflies with a clean, chemical- and pesticide-free source of water is important as the weather gets warmer. Such sources can help these insects keep cool and hydrated. Additionally, by building a drinking station with perches, you can help keep pollinators from drowning. Your drinking station can be as simple or fancy as you would like.
Simply take a shallow dish and fill with marbles or pebbles, then fill with water so that the top of your substrate is still above the water. Doing this provides the insects with a safe place to perch as they sip. Another option (which is great for wine enthusiasts!) is to use old wine or champagne corks instead of marbles. These will float on top of the water and will rise and fall as the water level changes. To maintain your Drinking Station, make sure to fill and change out the water regularly; it should stay full throughout the day.
2. Plant a Container Pollinator Garden:
Pollinator gardens provide important food and shelter. As habitat loss decimates wild pollinator populations, providing pockets of resources is crucial to helping them survive. Peaceful Dumpling writer Dana Drosdick discusses how to plant a beautiful pollinator garden in this article. But those of us without a yard or much outdoor space can still help! If you have a balcony, stoop, or window box, consider planting a miniature pollinator garden.
First, research plants native to your area that provide nectar, pollen, shelter, or nursery space to your local pollinators. An example of a plant that provides nursery space is milkweed for monarch butterflies. The butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed and the caterpillars then eat the plant as they grow. You can find lists of pollinator plants that are native to your area through the Xerces Society. Look for plants that will do well in containers.
Once you have selected what plants you will be growing, find a container. This can be a window box, a flower pot, an old trash can, or whatever will fit your plants. Then, go ahead and get your plants ready! Once you’ve planted everything, set it outside where pollinators can enjoy!
3. Build a Solitary Bee Habitat:
While much of the buzz around pollinators has been about honeybees, they are not native to North America. Originally imported from Europe, honeybees may actually compete with native bees. Around 90% of native bees live solitary lives. Some examples include carpenter bees and leaf-cutter bees. Sadly these and other native bees have been experiencing severe population decline across the continent. Indeed, for many species, their decline is more alarming than that of honey bees.
One of the most important things you can do to protect native bee species is provide habitat for them. Emphasize native plants in your garden or landscaping and consider building a bee hotel. Bee hotels provide nesting sites for solitary bees to lay their eggs and rear their young. There are several different ways to make bee hotels. Check out this easy tutorial by Lisa Hendry from the Natural History Museum to get started. No matter what type of bee hotel you choose to make, be sure that you place it somewhere warm and protected from rain. Also, be sure to clean or replace your bee hotel after adults have emerged.
Other Ways to Help Pollinators
Allergic to bees? Definitely not a DIY person? Have absolutely no outdoor space? Don’t worry! There are still several other ways you can help pollinators.
1. Reduce Pesticide Use:
Pesticides are designed to ward off insects that may damage crops or other plants, however many precious pollinators are insects too! Consider looking into alternative methods for controlling common garden pests. Resources can be found through the Xerces Societies page on Pesticides.
2. Participate in No Mow May:
No Mow May is designed to let the flowers in your yard bloom and provide food sources to pollinators. Although this is not feasible in all areas, consider participating, or add native species and flowers to your lawn. Dandelions, clover, and chickweed are all common lawn “weeds” that are actually important resources for pollinators. Read more about why you should leave them be in this article by Lauren Wesp.
3. Reduce Light Pollution:
Although it can be easy to forget about them, some pollinators are active at night! Moths, bats, and other insects can be easily confused and disoriented by excess light. Additionally, light pollution can negatively affect the sleep patterns of even diurnal pollinators. Turn off outside lights,close the curtains at night, and turn off lights when you leave the room to reduce light pollution
4. Spread the Word and Support Legislation to Help Pollinators:
Pollinators are often small creatures who are easy to miss. Nevertheless, they are a pivotal part of ecosystems worldwide and their disappearance would have devastating consequences for us all. One of the most important things you can do for pollinators is be an advocate! Spread the world about their plight and support causes that protect them.
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Photo: Esperanza Doronila via Unsplash; Meg G via Unsplash