Pollinators in your backyard
Chances are that if you have ever spent time outside in the spring or summer or ever stopped to admire flowers in bloom, then you have been around pollinators and their craft. There is an entire tiny world buzzing all around us, and most of the time we don’t even notice. The next time you are near any blooming plants, take a minute and look closely. Chances are that you will see pollinators hard at work. Bees, butterflies and moths are some of the most common ones we’ll find in our backyards, but pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny wild cockroach of Chile to the large black-and-white-ruffed lemurs of Madagascar. Each of these pollinators helps fill some vital role in the reproductive cycle of their ecosystem. Collectively, they provide 35 percent of the food we eat today and contribute over half a trillion dollars to the global economy each year. Still, despite their ecological and economic importance, you will find that many of them, if not most, are under threat.
Insects, and mostly bees, play the largest role in the pollination production around the globe. These insects are under threat from a wide variety of human pressures, including habitat loss, invasive pests, climate change, disease and toxic pesticides. According to a recent assessment by the Center for Biological Diversity, of the over 4,300 species of bees that live in North America and Hawaii, more than half of them are in decline while a quarter of them are approaching extinction, and we, as humans, are largely to blame for this decline. However, it’s not too late for you to make a difference! You can help the pollinators in your area by just changing a few of your home and lawncare practices.
First, try to stop or limit your use of pesticides in your yard. While these kinds of chemicals are effective at eliminating pests like mosquitoes and weeds, they are also indiscriminate and create unintentional by-kill like bees, butterflies, moths and even frogs. Instead, try using non-toxic deterrents, like organic pest control, citronella candles or insect repellent, when you are outside. You’ll find that you get similar results without devastating effects on the ecosystem around your home.
Next, try to increase the green space in your yard by planting an abundance of diverse native flowering plants. Not every pollinator is well-suited to pollinate every flower. In fact, that is the reason why we have so many different types of flowers and bees today. Millions of years ago, the first flower bloomed on Earth and, speaking in a cosmic sense, not too long after that, the first bees evolved from their carnivorous wasp ancestors and began to pollinate those flowers. Over time, slight gene mutations in the plants gave rise to favor slight gene mutations in the bees, and vice versa. Today, after millions of years of adaptive radiation and co-evolution, we enjoy the sights and smells of nearly 370,000 different flowering plant species and approximately 20,000 different bee species. Since pollinators today come in all shapes and sizes, they need flowers that do as well. By planting diverse native flowers, you are helping create a habitat that favors those pollinators already filling an ecological niche in your area.
Finally, expand your impact beyond your backyard and into your community and continue your quest to save pollinators by sharing what you know far and wide! Host a pollinated-food themed dinner, join a local beekeeping association, or attend a community gardening event. By expanding your reach and educating family, friends and neighbors, we can create a wide-reaching network of pollinator-safe spaces and habitat and can hopefully offset some of the population problems they are facing today.
If you want to learn more about what you can do to safeguard these amazing insects and other pollinators, visit Zoo Atlanta for Pollinator Day on Saturday, June 23, as we celebrate National Pollinator Week with engaging education stations and activities, and then be sure to follow us on social media for the latest news and updates.
Animal Immersion Programs Supervisor