Pollinator insects and animals make food and life possible for humans. We should all thank a bee because 90% of most plants depend on pollinators to reproduce. For example, 1 in 3 bites of food (coffee, chocolate, hops, strawberries, apples, squash and thousands of other crops), come to us courtesy of bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects and animals. Over 4,000 species of North American native bees, as well as honeybees brought by European settlers, are a critical part of our agricultural food production. It is time to thank our pollinators and to celebrate all they do for us.
These hard-working animals help pollinate over 75% of our flowering plants, and nearly 75% of our crops. Often we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. Yet without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, almonds chocolate and coffee, all of which depend on pollinators.
"Endangered Pollinators", 2019 Pollinator Poster, Credit: Carol Schwartz
WHY POLLINATORS ARE IMPORTANT - Pollinators, such as most bees and some birds, bats, and other insects, play a crucial role in flowering plant reproduction and in the production of most fruits and vegetables.
Examples of crops that are pollinated include apples, squash, and almonds. Without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds. The fruits and seeds of flowering plants are an important food source for people and wildlife.
Some of the seeds that are not eaten will eventually produce new plants, helping to maintain the plant population.
Endangered pollinators in Hawai'i include:
Sesbania Tomentosa ('Ohai) - An erect to prostrate shrub, sometimes growing to the size of a small tree. Branches can be up to 14 meters long when prostrate. The plant has salmon colored flowers tinged with yellow, orange red, and scarlet.
It is a Federally Listed Endangered Species, and actions are being taken both to protect current populations and establish new populations.
Geographic Distribution: Endemic to all of the main islands of Hawai’i. Current populations exist on O’ahu, Moloka’i, Maui, Kaua’i, Kaho’olawe, Hawai’i, Nihoa and Necker.
Habitat: Dry shrublands or (rarely) dry forests. Found on calcareous beaches and sand dunes, rocky ridges and slopes, deep red soil, and soil pockets on lava.
Pollinators: Bees, including Yellow-Faced Bee (Hylaeus anthracinus).
Height: 2.5-6 meters.
Bloom Period: Winter and spring.
Species Facts: Before this plant was added to the endangered species list, many Hawaiians used the flowers for making lei. In the Hawaiian tradition, a lei is a garland used as a symbol of affection and to officially establish peace between two groups.
Today it is illegal to possess such flowers in a garden setting and you very rarely, if ever, see a lei made of ‘Ohai flowers.
Metrosideros Polymorpha ('Ohi'a Lehua) - A slow-growing native hardwood tree. It is the first tree to appear on new lava flows where it offers watershed protection, and it often starts as an epiphyte in fern forests. The wood is of fine texture and is often used for flooring, fence posts and fuel. This tree is the most abundant tree in Hawai’i and provides important habitat to native birds, several of which are endangered.
Geographic Distribution: Endemic to and present on O’ahu, Moloka’i, Maui, Kaua’i, Lana’i, and Hawai’i.
Habitat: Grows just above sea level to 2600 meters, generally in areas with rainfall over 50 cm. The maximum stand growth of M. polymorpha exists on young volcanic substrates in rainforest habitats on Hawai’i.
Pollinators: Birds, such as the Akohekohe or Crested Honeycreeper (Palmeria dolei), and insects are the most important pollinators.
Mature Height: 20 meters.
Bloom Period: Flowering generally peaks in spring or summer, but some varieties peak in fall or winter.
Species Facts: The species name polymorpha, meaning "many forms," is most apropos. Probably no other native Hawaiian plant is found in a greater number of varieties than this one. The sheer number and variations of ʻōhiʻa shrub and tree forms, leaf colors and shapes, and floral colors is baffling.
For additional plants, pease see here: https://www.pollinator.org/shop/poster-2019
Learn more about pollinators by viewing fun and educational materials on pollinators, including:
Activity guide (Go! Wild) - learn about pollinators at Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, then match plants to pollinators and enjoy other games. Can you guess which animals pollinate plants in your yard?
Podcasts - listen to broadcasts about native bees, endangered pollinators, pollinator gardens and backyard habitat, and a view a video clip from Green Springs Garden. Are you providing good habitat for pollinators in your yard?
Webcasts ( Pollinator Live and Monarch Live) - take a trip on these websites to "see" monarch habitat across North America and learn about the great migration of monarchs, or learn how bees and other pollinators benefit people and how to attract them to your schoolyard.
USFWS Monarch Butterfly Website - learn about its lifecycle and migration, and how you can help save this iconic species.
The Nature's Partner's Curriculum - fun activities for clubs, schools, and families to learn about pollinators. Children may need some help from adults with many of these activities.
Download a variety of resources about pollinators, pollinator week, and what you can do to help pollinators at: http://www.pollinator.org
Note: The celebration of Pollinator Week started in 2007, when the U.S. Senate designated Pollinator Week in Resolution 580.
How You Can Help - Pollinators need your help! There is increasing evidence that many pollinators are in decline. However, there are some simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance.
In the United States pollination by honey bees directly or indirectly (e.g., pollination required to produce seeds for the crop) contributed to over $19 billion of crops in 2010. Pollination by other insect pollinators contributed to nearly $10 billion of crops in 2010.
A recent study of the status of pollinators in North America by the National Academy of Sciences found that populations of honey bees (which are not native to North America) and some wild pollinators are declining. Declines in wild pollinators may be a result of habitat loss and degradation, while declines in managed bees is linked to disease (introduced parasites and pathogens).
WHAT IS POLLINATION? - Pollination results when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is moved to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma) and fertilizes it, resulting in the production of fruits and seeds. Some flowers rely on the wind to move pollen, while other rely on animals to move pollen.
Animals visit flowers in search of food and sometimes even mates, shelter and nest-building materials. Some animals, such as many bees, intentionally collect pollen, while others, such as many butterflies and birds, move pollen incidentally because the pollen sticks on their body while they are collecting nectar from the flowers. All of these animals are considered pollinators.
Endangered Pollinators - In 1973, the United States Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) with the intention of protecting vulnerable species and preserving the ecosystems that we all share. There are numerous species that are at risk and listed as federally endangered or threatened including: 1 fly, 3 bats, 5 birds, 8 bees, and 24 butterflies and moths. Disturbances such as habitat loss, climate change, and application of agricultural pesticides contribute greatly to diminishing populations and disrupt ecological interactions. The problem of extinction can lead to a crippling disaster for ecological resilience and economic interests.
Pollinators play a critical role in our global food system; at least 80% of crops we consume are pollinated by bees and other wildlife. The relationship between pollinators and their plants are intrinsically linked, the decline of pollinators make plants more vulnerable to secondary extinction. Conversely, the populations of pollinators determine the stability of plants and our ecosystem health. As keystone species, pollinators have substantial impact on our global systems. Recognizing the importance of vulnerable pollinator species and their habitats, as well as initiating preservation efforts before there is a need to list them as endangered or threatened, is key to maintaining our biological balance.
This information is of great value to foresee consequences of pollinator losses and to identify target species for effective conservation. Endeavors such as the Monarch Wings Across America and Bee Friendly Farming techniques can aid in the conservation of critical habitat by prioritizing pollinators and reinforcing the importance of such species. By placing emphasis on the natural networks at play between plants, pollinators, and people, we can begin to ensure healthy ecosystems and food security for all.