As new keepers of the honeybee, this past season I've been noticing a diverse range of pollinators that occupy our land. Pollinators include birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and bees!
As our population grows and our food production increases, the honeybee plays a vital role in our food production. Although it is convenient that we can keep bees in man-made hives and support their population to pollinate our food, they aren’t native to our land. There is so much more to the story.
In the same way that honeybees are critical to food production, native pollinators are vital to the survival of wild plants.
Two of the categories that define pollinators are generalist and specialist. Honeybees fall under the category generalist indicating that they will pollinate many different types of plants. This means there is lower chance that the pollen of the same species will fertilizer each other. This is what a wide variety of plants need to reproduce. Specialist pollinators on the other hand only pollinate one or two types of plants. These are plants that they have evolved alongside and that are native to a specific region. Their biological clock is in harmony with “their” plant and are adapted to being the perfect pollinator to keep this cycle of life thriving.
Specialist pollinators (often native bees) are a key species to our ecosystems. The generalist honeybees simply are not evolved to pollinate the bio-diverse array of plants that are in our native habitats. Their mouthparts, legs and feeding patterns are not suited to collect and transfer the pollen of the certain species from one plant to another.
Just as native plants need their pollinators, these pollinators also need their native plants!
So what defines native plants exactly? They are well-adapted to an area’s climate and soil. They can flourish with little attention, are generally non-invasive and are good sources of food, nectar and pollen for the the wildlife that live along-side them. They often thrive on the given rainfall of that region. Pollination is just one of the many benefits of a healthy population for our native species. This along with deterring pests with a bio-diverse habitat and supporting a dynamic food-chain, keeping the equilibrium of our ecosystem in check.
There is a lot out there that is threatening our native plants and pollinators such as habitat loss through logging and forest fires, pesticide sprays, climate change and industrial mono-cultures. Homogenous landscapes damage native bees that cannot eat from other food sources. The honeybee will often out compete native pollinators in these scenarios. However, in bio-diverse landscapes, studies have shown that the presence of honeybees did not lower the population of other pollinators. The key to increasing our number of wild pollinators is not to decrease our honeybees - it is to increase floral diversity and habitat of native species.
In a lot of ways this topic seems like one that is out of the scope of our control,
but there are things you can do to help protect our native pollinators and plants.
🐝Educate yourself on what grows here. The @kootenay_native_plant_society offers great resources on these topics.
🐝When you are doing any landscaping be sure to choose plants and trees that are native to your area which will invite native pollinators to your backyard.
🐝Let your lawn grow a little longer and encourage the growth of plants like clover amongst it which can provide them a valuable food source.
🐝Be sure that the products you are using in your yard are not killing pollinators, for example pesticides and herbicides.
🐝Allow for areas of undisturbed groundcover. Seventy percent of native bees live in the ground. Leave untouched twigs, dead wood and leaves for them to nest.
🐝Don’t rake your leaves in the fall! You may be destroying the winter nesting place of these precious pollinators.