Animal pollination is a critical part of our world’s economy. Thirty-five percent of our food crops and 75% of our flowering plants need the presence of pollinators to thrive. This includes most fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, livestock forage, and oil crops. Pollinators contribute $24 billion to the economy in the US alone.
The trouble is many of our major pollinators are dying in large quantities.
Without sufficient pollination, crop yields will suffer, consumer costs will skyrocket, and numerous items could disappear from store shelves altogether. Action needs to be taken, but first, it’s important to understand the problem as a whole. The best place to start is with the honeybee.
The Honeybee and Colony Collapse Disorder
The honeybee is without question our most prominent pollinator. Honeybees are currently responsible for 80% of crop pollination, single handily contributing $15 billion to the US every year. Since 1947, however, their population has decreased by 60% due to Colony Collapse Disorder. If this continues, they could be extinct by 2035.
Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon that involves an unexplained disappearance of worker bees. While CCD has happened at varying degrees across history, it has never been seen on this scale. Though the queen and young bees are left behind with an abundance of honey and pollen reserves, they can not sustain themselves. Soon, the remnants of the colony die out.
The exact cause of CCD remains a mystery. Possible contributors include infections, mites, parasites, beekeeping practices, climate change, and more. Some experts believe pesticides that are considered safe for honeybees may actually be sub-lethal. This could weaken the bees and impair their development.
Whatever the cause may be, the advent of CCD has exposed an overdependence on the honeybee. Though the honeybee has been effective in its role, it’s not actually native to our country, leading many to suggest an increased focus on pollinator diversity by utilizing native pollinators.
Unfortunately, two of our best options are also suffering from population decline.
Bumblebees and Monarch Butterflies
Bumblebees and monarch butterflies are both native pollinators that are well–suited to lighten the load of the honeybee. Bumblebees’ furry coats are great at picking up pollen, making them generally more efficient than honeybees. They can also operate in lower temperatures than honeybees. Meanwhile, the monarch butterfly can cover a much larger territory than bees. Unfortunately, both of these insects have seen equally dramatic population declines in recent decades.
Some species of bumblebees have experienced a 96% loss in population. There are a number of potential reasons for this including disease, pesticides, and invasive species. However, a loss of habitat is also believed to be a major contributing factor.
Meanwhile, the monarch butterfly population decreased by 80% between 1994 and 2016. This is in part due to a changing climate. Like birds, monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter. With unseasonably warm falls, many butterflies migrate too late. When a sudden frost sets in, they die in droves.
An equally important cause, however, is the lack of milkweed. Milkweed is crucial to the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. In fact, it’s the only place a monarch butterfly will lay its eggs. When these eggs hatch, they feed off the milkweed. While milkweed is harmless to monarch larvae, it makes them toxic to would be predators.
What Can Be Done?
When it comes to CCD, opinions are split, and recommendations are inconclusive. However, bumblebees and monarch butterfly can significantly benefit from the establishment of pollinator habitat. Not only does pollinator habitat help bumblebees and butterflies, but it can benefit less traditional pollinators such as moths.
In order to accomplish this, pollinator habitat needs to be consciously (and strategically) created. Different pollinators are attracted to different colors, scents, and species. In the case of the monarch butterfly, milkweed must be included.
One of the simplest, most cost-effective ways farmers and landowners can support pollinators while enjoying the benefits they bring is by enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program. Through CRP, you can receive rental payments in exchange for taking marginal land out of active production and establishing pollinator habitat. Just make sure you use the right CRP pollinator seed mix.
At All Native Seed, we provide the highest quality of seed mixes, designed and tested to achieve better germination rates. If you’re in need of a quality pollinator mix, make sure to check out our NRCS approved mixes here. We can also provide a quote for NRCS developed plans here.