Pollinators are vital to our farms and ecosystems. Bees and other pollinators are essential to a healthy environment and a sustainable food supply yet are declining in many places. Learn about pollinators and what you can do at home to support them.
Pollinators Provide Ecosystem Services
- More than 85% of flowering plants require an insect to move pollen.
- Pollinators enable plants to produce fruits and seeds.
- Fruits and seeds are a major part of the diet of about 25% of birds and many mammals.
- Without pollinators, many plant species in natural habitats would become extinct.
Pollinators Provide Economic Value
- Pollinators are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food in our diets.
- Animal products such as meats and dairy rely on insect pollinated clover and alfalfa.
- Annual value of insect pollinated crops worldwide is estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
Did you know? There are over 400 different species of bees in Maryland.
Wild, native bees, are different than honey bees in a variety of ways. Honey bees have been naturalized in the US and are native to Europe. They are mostly managed by humans for their pollination services in a variety of food crops—and also honey. Wild, native bees include species that have evolved over time with plants and wildlife that are naturally found in the United States. The 1,000+ wild bees found in the US play an important role in the pollination of our flowering plants as well as food crops, and are vital in filling the pollination gap left by the imperiled honey bee. These native bees come in a variety of sizes from the large carpenter bee to the tiny Perdita bee.
Honey bees and wild bees have one major thing in common – their populations are being threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, pests, a changing climate, and invasive plants.
Interesting facts – bumble bees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees, making them excellent pollinators – especially at higher elevations and latitudes. They also perform a behavior called “buzz pollination,” in which the bee grabs the flower in her jaws and vibrates her wing muscles to dislodge pollen from the flower. Many plants, including a number of wildflowers and crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cranberries, benefit from buzz pollination. -Xerces Society
What Can You Do?
Plant Native Plants to Provide Pollen and Nectar Sources
Whether you are a farmer of many acres or a gardener with a small lot, you can increase the number of pollinators in your area by making conscience choices to include plants that provide essential habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
- Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic
- Plant Native Nursery Finder
- Native Pollinators: How to Protect and Enhance Habitat for Native Bees
Eliminate/Reduce Pesticide Use
Too many people use pesticides as a first line of defense or as an insurance policy, where a problem doesn’t exist or is not justified by a demonstrated need. When you (or your lawn company) use broadcast chemical pesticides in your yard, you ultimately kill beneficial insects, including pollinators. Pesticides should be used to treat pests only when there is proven impact, and even then, the choice of a specific pesticide, application method, time-of-day, climatic conditions, and bloom season should be considered so that pollinators are protected from harm to the greatest extent possible.
Provide Nesting Habitat for Native Bees
Most bee species that live in the United States (and here in Howard County) are solitary nesting, meaning the female provisions a nest on her own and there is no colony or caste system in place, as seen in honey bees. With a loss of habitat comes loss of suitable nesting sites for native bees. You can easily provide nesting habitat for a variety of solitary nesting bees by following the suggestions in this link: 5 Ways to Increase Nesting Habitat for Native Bees.
Bee houses and “hotels” are becoming more and more popular. The Office of Community Sustainability has used bamboo for DIY bee habitat projects and demonstrations. Bamboo is a very invasive plant, so harvesting some for bee houses is a win-win.
Get Involved in Citizen Science Projects
- BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener
- Bumble Bee Watch
- The Great Sunflower Project
- Monarch Watch Tagging
- Project Monarch Health
- Monarch Larva Monitoring Project
- Journey North
Learn more about Citizen Science