Bee and bloom

A bee visits a creosote bloom. Bee’s are just one of many species of pollinators, with about 85% of all flowering plants need the help of pollinators to reproduce. — Credit: Doug Kreutz/Arizona Daily Star

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

The news for our nonhuman cousins on planet Earth has not been so good lately.

Last month, a global commission of 145 experts from 50 countries (the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) released their review of over 15,000 scientific papers. Their verdict: Ecosystems around the globe are declining at alarming rates, threatening food security, human health and the global economy.

The biggest culprit is the repurposing of land and sea for human uses, such as housing, agriculture, industry or transportation. The other big bad guys are direct harvesting of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive species.

Some of the animals in peril are pollinators. About 85% of all flowering plants need the help of pollinators to reproduce, and by pollinating our food crops, pollinators deliver about one third of all the foods we eat. Bees are the primary pollinators, but there are another 200,000 species of insects and about 1,000 species of birds, mammals and reptiles that move pollen among flowers.

Pollinators are often keystone species, critical to an ecosystem. Recently, loss of habitat, pesticide use and disease have led to significant declines in some species of bees and butterflies, such as honey bees (not native to the Americas, but very important to agriculture), and monarch butterflies.

Now for the good news.

Urban, suburban and agricultural ecosystems are not necessarily bad for pollinators. It all depends on how the land is managed. The area around Tucson is home to more species of bees and hummingbirds than anywhere else in the United States. There are some relatively easy ways we can keep these pollinators in our midst.

How?

You can purchase food from bee-friendly farmers who don’t use pesticides and who leave patches of native plants among their fields. A map of certified bee-friendly farms can be found at the Pollinator Partnership. In the urban environment, you can engage with city, county and local business and conservation organization initiatives to reduce pesticides, remove invasive species and restore habitats.

Looking at your own habitat, small changes add up. Incorporating native plants into your yard or patio won’t just attract bees, butterflies and birds, but can also provide sources of shade and food, with long-term benefits to you. Just 10 native milkweeds planted in your yard will qualify it as a Monarch Waystation, and will attract and support these magnificent butterflies. You can also limit your use of pesticides and learn about well-tested alternatives, such as Integrated Pest Management.

No place to plant, or have a brown thumb? You can help our native bees by providing shelter. Most of them nest in cavities, or in the soil. You can build a bee condo out of scrap wood, or simply clear a patch of ground, removing gravel, so that they can dig their nests. All these small changes you can make become pieces of a larger whole. Imagine your backyard as a square of fabric. From the bee’s eye view, all those squares, connected by the thread of public good, add up to a quilt of habitat.

The Conservation, Education and Science Department at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, art institute and conservation organization whose mission is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world.