Photo by Ed Spevak, Curator of Invertebrates at Saint Louis Zoo
Did you know that one out of every three bites of food you eat depends on pollinators? Honeybees, bumble bees, and other insects, birds and small mammals pollinate over 90% of the planet's flowering plants and one third of human food crops.
Birds, Bees, Flowers and Trees
About 90% of all flowering plants need the help of animals to move pollen from flower to flower for the production of fruits and seeds. Most pollinators, about 200,000 species, are beneficial insects such as bees, flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, and moths. About 1,000 species of pollinators are vertebrates like birds, bats, lizards, and small mammals.
Halloween Without Pumpkins? Thanksgiving Without Cranberries?
Our world would be a lot less colorful and flavorful without pollinators! Of the estimated 1330 crop plants grown worldwide for food, beverages, fibers, condiments, spices, and medicines approximately 75% are pollinated by animals. In the U.S, honey bee and native bee pollination accounts for approximately $19 billion worth of crop production. Native bees also help maintain plant communities that provide food and shelter for other animals. About 25% of birds and many mammals from grizzly bears to squirrels feed on fruits and seeds that depend upon pollinators to produce.
The Buzz About Bees
There are more species of bees in the world than all mammal and bird species combined. In North America there are around 4,000 species of bees. In Missouri there are over 400 species of bees, including 10 species of bumblebees. Honey bees are an exotic species first introduced into the New World in 1622.
Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. As landscapes are converted from wild to managed lands, many pollinators' habitats may be destroyed or fragmented.
Saint Louis Zoo is Helping Pollinators
The Zoo's WildCare Institute Center for Native Pollinator Conservation (CNPC) works to save pollinators on several levels - from backyards to the far corners of the world. In 2008, the Center, with the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, produced the first guide of bumble bees in Illinois and Missouri. The CNPC is committed to producing additional identification guides for local and regional bumble bees and other native bees for students, researchers, farmers, and citizen scientists. The Center conducts bee surveys within the St. Louis area to examine bee diversity and abundance and identify possible areas of conservation concern. At the community level, the CNPC is beginning work with community garden groups, like Gateway Greening, to educate individuals about native bees and develop best bee practices for local gardens.
Bees in the Park
The Center for Native Pollinator Conservation researchers are conducting a scientific survey of bee and other pollinator populations in Forest Park's restored prairies in cooperation with the Zoo's Center for Conservation in Forest Park, Forest Park Forever and St. Louis Parks Department. Information gathered about the diversity and abundance of pollinators in the Park will help improve the management of habitats, and provide valuable data about pollinator populations and their relationship to the plants and ecosystem around them.
Honeybees at the Insectarium
What you can do to help
Be a Spotter!
St. Louisans can now participate in the University of Illinois' "Bee Spotter" program to help collect data in our region. Through the Bee Spotter Web site, you can send photos you have taken of bees in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The information will be added to a database to establish a baseline for monitoring population decline.
Plant a Garden
You can help native pollinators, especially bees, by planting a pollinator-friendly garden.
• Maximize flower space and plant species diversity.
• Provide a succession of blooming plants throughout the growing season, spring through fall.
• Provide a mix of flower shapes to accommodate different species.
• Emphasize native perennial plants.
• Plant host plants to feed caterpillars as well as nectar plants for adult butterflies.
• Avoid horticultural plants, such as marigolds and roses, bred as "doubles" that provide little or no pollen and nectar.
• Choose non-chemical solutions to insect problems.
• Avoid using herbicides.
• Provide nesting habitat for bees, such as bare ground for digger and sweat bees and wood and dried plant stems for leaf cutter and carpenter bees. Or build your own bee condo.
• Practice peaceful coexistence. Bees sometimes choose to nest in inconvenient places. Rather than exterminating them, think of it as an opportunity to see and learn about them up close.