September 4, 2015
By Will Sheftall and Arlo Kane
Maybe you’ve done a great job creating a butterfly or hummingbird garden, but did you know that these animals don’t do the bulk of nature’s pollination work? Hmm.
We’ve all heard the disturbing news about honey bees suffering colony collapse across the globe. And we know honey bees are primarily responsible for pollinating 90-100 different crops grown for food and fiber. Do native bees and other insects pollinate crops, too? If so, what role can native pollinators play in taking up the slack?
Let’s eavesdrop on this recent conversation between Curious Jacques and Madame Lure du Nectar to find out.
Buckeye butterfly on Brown-eyed Susan with bumblebee incoming. Photo credit Arlo-Kane.
Curious Jacques: How many native bee species are there in North America?
Mme Lure du Nectar: 4,000 in North America, 20,000 world-wide. Bees are considered the most important insect pollinators of flowers.
Curious Jacques: What group of insects after bees (honey bees and native bees) is the next most important globally for crop pollination?
Mme Lure du Nectar: Flies. They are pollination specialists on small-flowered plants that grow in the shade. 19% of the 1,330 crop cultivars examined worldwide are at least partially pollinated by flies.
Curious Jacques: What group of insects – many of which are pollinators – has the greatest diversity of species?
Mme Lure du Nectar: Beetles. There are 340,000 species of beetles world-wide, 30,000 in North America. Not all beetles are pollinators, however.
Curious Jacques: Does North America experience a higher or lower percentage of pollination by insects as compared with the global average?
Mme Lure du Nectar: Higher – 99% of North American pollinators are insects, as opposed to 80% globally.
Curious Jacques: What animals pollinate night-blooming flowers in the Southeastern US?
Mme Lure du Nectar: Only moths. Bats also are important nocturnal pollinators in Southwestern US deserts – on cacti, yucca and orchids.
Curious Jacques: How important are butterflies and hummingbirds as pollinators?
Mme Lure du Nectar: They are important for a limited number of species, including some that have evolved long-tubular flowers that force these animals to stick their head among the anthers to drink nectar, in spite of their long straw-like tongues.
Curious Jacques: What is the one animal out of all reptiles and amphibians world-wide known to pollinate?
Mme Lure du Nectar: The gecko. There are no geckos native to Leon County, but the exotic Mediterranean gecko has escaped from the pet trade in Florida to make itself at home in suburban and urban neighborhoods throughout the state.
Curious Jacques: How important to fostering pollination is it to have a number of plants of the same species near each other?
Mme Lure du Nectar: If a species is pollinated by bees – which exhibit species constancy – it is important that the bees visit multiple individuals of that species on each foraging trip in order to transfer the right pollen for cross-pollination.
Curious Jacques: What three landscape-level changes contribute to native bee decline and can be reversed in part by landowners, both rural and suburban?
Mme Lure du Nectar: Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and degradation of remaining natural habitat.
Curious Jacques: In what two ways can insect pollinators fall victim to pesticide poisoning?
Mme Lure du Nectar: They can absorb these chemicals through contact with their bodies, and they can ingest them by feeding on contaminated pollen and nectar.
Curious Jacques: How can I learn what practices to use in my own yard or property to help conserve pollinators?
Mme Lure du Nectar: I hear that Leon County Extension and FWC are collaborating to present a full-day workshop on Pollinator Conservation September 24th at the Leon County Extension Center. Eight expert speakers will be covering everything from designing pollinator habitat for yards to establishing new practices that conserve native pollinators on rural lands – with NRCS cost-share support. Plus lots of basic “how-to” topics in-between.
This workshop is full, but you can put your name on a waiting list for priority registration at the next one, in 2016. To do this, visit http://pollinator-conservation-2015.eventbrite.com
Getting on the list for 2016 will ensure you’ll get to take a workshop tour of pollinator perennials in the Center’s demonstration gardens, given by Master Gardeners who care for the beds. And browse local nursery displays of pollinator plants they stock. All in one day in 2016! So don’t delay, our 2015 workshop filled up quickly.
Will Sheftall is an Extension Agent with Leon County/University of Florida IFAS Extension and Arlo Kane is the Northwest Region Coordinator with the Office of Conservation Planning Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov