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The plight of pollinators

Helping these small creatures is also an act of helping ourselves

June 24, 2019
The iconic bumblebee
The iconic bumblebee © Michael Hodgins

If there’s one thing Canadians from sea to sea can relate to – it’s insects. Love them or loathe them, they are part of our quintessential Canadian experience. We’ve dodged them while riding our bicycles, fended them off at picnics, and wiped them from our windshields. As children, we either ran from them or we coaxed them into our hands. Some of us even tried (quite unsuccessfully) to nurture them inside little containers.  Whether we swatted them, bottled them, or were just captivated by them, they were part of our outdoor explorations.

But the same may not be true for future generations. The current trajectory of many insects, and pollinators especially, is not good.

Insect populations have declined 75 per cent over the last 27 years. No scientific group has been able to determine what species have been eradicated completely.

Think about that for a moment. If we lost 75 per cent of our Southern Resident Killer Whale population, there would be mass outrage, emergency legislation, and immediate aggressive conservation efforts enacted. Driven by our moral imperative, we’d be acutely focused on why this happened and what can immediately be done to address it.

Pollinators, specifically, deserve this same concern because they intersect with our lives in critical ways. Consider this: one in three bites of food we eat or beverages we drink are possible because of the work of pollinators. They are essential to agricultural production. Fibres (like cotton), drugs, and fuel rely on the hard work of pollinators. They deliver economic and ecological value to our lives.

 

One in three bites of food we eat or beverages we drink are possible because of the work of pollinators.

DUC

Sweating the Small Stuff

You might be thinking why would an organization devoted to ducks care about bees, butterflies and other pollinators?

Well, in many cases, the habitat that pollinators and other beneficial insects depend on is also habitat important to ducks. This is especially true in parts of Canada like the prairies where patches of grasslands and wetlands continue to be lost. Too often, we overlook these small creatures – and ducks – who depend on these patches to survive.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly © Tinthia Clemant

There’s no place like home

Wild pollinators, like those we’ve featured, face many challenges.

  • First is their exposure to parasites and pesticides.
  • Second is the absence of vegetation to pollinate, a result of our land-use decisions.
  • Lastly, we’ve removed the places where they live; destroying their nesting sites.

And this last statement is deeply personal to us because as we’ve said for more than 80 years: where you endanger habitat, you endanger a larger ecosystem.

The takeaway? When you save their home, you have the best chance of saving the species.

Not to be a buzzkill

Small acts of service to our pollinators can make a big difference. There are things you can do to help.

  • Think local. When selecting plants for your home or garden, select plants that are meant to grow in the area. Resist selecting exotic plants that are foreign to pollinators – they don’t know what to do with them.
  • Give those monarchs some milkweed. If you love these iconic orange and black butterflies, then you need to plant milkweed and late-blooming flowers. They’ll use the nectar to sustain them on their epic 4,800-kilometre migration to winter in Mexico. The milkweed helps in their return to Canada and is vital to their ability to survive and reproduce.
  • Space out your bloomers. Try to have plants that bloom at different times. Return visits to new flowers are key for pollinator sustainability. Ask your garden centre to help you select plants with flowers that bloom from April and May, all the way to August. This is especially important to those of us that live in warmer climates (we’re looking at you B.C.) where life cycle of a pollinator is longer.
  • Say no to mulch. Many species of bee are diggers – their nests are in the ground. Having open soil allows them to dig into the ground unobstructed; something they cannot do if mulch or other ground cover is in the way.
  • Join in. Support conservation organizations with an on-the-ground track record of conserving and restoring habitats across Canada that benefit multiple species (hint: that’s us).

Ponder this

The New York Times published a feature in 2018 entitled, “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” which asks a powerful question for us all to consider:

“[Animal] extinction is not the only tragedy through which we’re living. What about the species that still exist, but as a shadow of what they once were?”

This very question is the plight of our pollinators. It’s also our call to respond.

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