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Why Native Pollinators Matter



For the Valley News
Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Have you noticed?

It is hard to spot a monarch butterfly these days. Twenty years ago, they were in our yards regularly.

The native rusty-patched bumblebee has joined the list of species proposed for threatened status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This bee was once common in Vermont, but was last seen there in 1999 and the map of its territory has shrunk dramatically.

In the same period, other honeybee colonies have suffered sharp declines.

Fake News? Members of the Upper Valley Pollinator Partners, a coalition of groups involved in environmental issues and education, don’t think so. The monarch butterfly and rusty-patch bumblebees are just two of many disappearing insect species. Our eyes are correct: There really are fewer pollinators. Their decline has been rapid.

Since roughly three-quarters of Earth’s flowering plants are pollinated by animals (mainly insects), we need to pay attention to this relationship. Further, at least one of every three bites of our food depends on animal pollinators; we’d have a pretty dull diet without insects helping farmers. And, honeybees can’t do all the pollinator work either.

Last year, the Grantham Garden Club sponsored two days of pollinator events. One outcome was four new pollinator gardens in prominent spots in Grantham. Impressed by that project, the Hanover Conservation Commission’s Biodiversity Committee convened a meeting with representatives of many groups and several towns; the Upper Valley Pollinator Partners was formed.

Consisting of representatives from area conservation commissions, garden clubs, schools, land trusts and other environmental organizations, the partnership is sponsoring a series of educational events starting this month and extending through the summer.

This series, titled “Why Native Pollinators Matter,” consists of presentations at the Montshire Museum (also a partner), and field trips. The series will cover both why pollinator insects are disappearing, and what individual landowners, farmers, public officials and others can do about it.

We have also set an ambitious goal of 100 new pollinator gardens in the Upper Valley. Eleven schools in seven school districts are getting the ball rolling. With help from the Dartmouth College greenhouse (another partner), we are starting native pollinator plants from seed.

Local schools will raise the seedlings for gardens that will be planted late in the school year, after danger of frost. The two land trust partners are planning pollinator gardens on properties they own.

Flowering plants and insects dominate the biomass of our planet, and comprise two-thirds of all living species. To quote biologist E.O. Wilson, “The joint hegemony of these two great groups is not an accident. It is the result of co-evolution, the process in natural selection during which species adapt to one another and thereby build rich ecosystems. The interaction between plants and insects has been going on for a long time.’’

Barbara McIlroy lives in Etna and is a member of the Hanover Biodiversity Committee. The partnership’s series about pollinators in peril begins with a kick-off event Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Montshire Museum in Norwich. Three biologists will explore the extent and causes of the pollinator decline. Taylor Ricketts, director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute of Ecological Economics, will summarize 20 years of research. Kent McFarland and Sara Zahendra from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies will report on the decline of pollinators they have monitored in Vermont with the help of citizen scientists. The event is free and open to the public.

The Biodiversity Committee’s pages at Hanovernh.org contain partners’ posters, schedule of events and a list of partners. The site also provides advice about plant choices, sources of seeds and plants, design of pollinator gardens, resources for local educators and more.