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Pollinator Conservation

Across the world pollinators are in trouble - and New Jersey is no exception. From the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the beverages we drink, to the habitats that surround us - we all depend on pollinators. We are working to preserve our wild native species and encourage everyone to play a role in ensuring pollinating species continue to thrive for years to come.

Image of Mammoth gray-stripe sunflowers provide food for large amounts of pollinators when flowering and songbirds from the seeds produced. Mammoth gray-stripe sunflowers provide food for large amounts of pollinators when flowering and songbirds from the seeds produced. Ben Wurst

Conserve Wildlife Foundation biologists and educators are helping ensure pollinators have a place in our rapidly changing New Jersey environment. Pollinators – which include bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects – are vital to a thriving economy, agriculture industry, human health, and working food webs in our natural ecology. Without pollinators, the world as we know it simply couldn’t exist.

With the generous corporate support of Atlantic City Electric, CWF has partnered on pollinator projects in New Jersey, from outreach and education to building and restoring pollinator gardens at schools, homes, and businesses. CWF has also partnered with Firmenich and GZA Environmental on other pollinator habitat projects.

Contact us to learn more about how you can support pollinator habitat in your yard, company, town, school, or university, or to schedule a speaking appearance by one of our pollinator educators.

Pollinator Decline
Image of Development in southern New Jersey. Development in southern New Jersey. Ben Wurst

Unfortunately, the world’s pollinators are in rapid decline. The combination of habitat loss and degradation, global climate changes, expansive pesticide use, and disease has resulted in significant pollinator population losses. In 2012, it is reported that 31% of American honeybees died in one winter. Monarch butterflies are similarly under threat, with a 90% decline over the past 20 years.

There are a number of known causes for population declines. Firstly, the widespread use of a pesticide called neonicotinoids has been killing significant numbers of pollinators, though most notably honeybees. The insecticide was designed to kill agricultural pests like sucking insects, some chewing insects, soil insects, and fleas on domestic animals. Despite its agricultural purpose, the pesticide is largely utilized by homeowners and landscapers in products like Ortho Flower, Aloft, Arena, Transect, Knockout Ready-To-Use, and Flagship. In 2013, it was discovered that neonicotinoids disrupt bees’ immune systems, making them susceptible to viral infections.

Likewise, climate change has disrupted the feeding, mating, and migration patterns of many pollinators. Changes to temperature have threatened pollination timing, as warmer weather alters plant blooms. It has also altered reproduction timing, with evidence showing decreased success rates.

About Pollinators
Image of Monarch nectaring on an autumn beauty sunflower in a backyard wildflower meadow.Monarch nectaring on an autumn beauty sunflower in a backyard wildflower meadow. Ben Wurst

Insect pollinators include bees, pollen wasps, ants, flies, moths, beetles, and butterflies. There are over 100,000 species of invertebrate pollinators worldwide. Birds and bats are the most common vertebrae pollinators, though lemurs, monkeys, lizards, and possums are also known to pollinate. Pollinators can either be wild or managed, such as the European Honeybee managed by beekeepers.

Though pollinators are often small enough to overlook, they play a huge role in plant reproduction. Pollinators instinctually visit flowers in search of food. As they feast on pollen or nectar, pollinators often brush against the flower’s reproductive parts and unknowingly deposit pollen from previously visited plants. Plants then use this deposited pollen to produce a fruit or seed. Since three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and 35 percent of the world’s food crop depend on pollinators to reproduce, it is essential for pollinators to thrive.

The Benefits of Pollinators
Image of Fresh picked strawberries. No bees, no food.Fresh picked strawberries. No bees, no food. Ben Wurst

Economic Benefits: Pollinators support a wide variety of human activities, including agriculture, pharmaceutical production, and forestry. As researchers began calculating the monetary value of a pollinator’s work, it became apparent just how indispensable these creatures are to the economy. Because of the immense economic value of pollinators, pollination is considered to be an ecosystem service. Ecosystem services are defined as the goods or services provided by the ecosystem to society and can be quantified.

Worldwide, crop production is valued at $577 billion a year. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the value of pollination services with respect to United States agriculture alone is estimated to be $29 billion each year. And in New Jersey, native pollinators contribute about $35 million to agricultural production annually. It is said that every one in three bites of food we eat exists because of pollinators and 90 commercially grown crops are dependent on them. Pollinators help ensure food security and support our system of industrial agriculture.

A decline in pollinator ability will correlate to a decline in agricultural output, thus damaging the economy. Pollinator deficits will also affect commodity prices, since the cost of production will skyrocket without pollinators.

The situation has become so dire that former President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. In a press release entitled “White House Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinators”, Obama set forth his goals of pollinator protections that included pollinator habitat enhancement on federal lands and the establishment of the Pollinator Health Task Force.

Image of Trumpet vine is an important natural food source for hummingbirds.Trumpet vine is an important natural food source for hummingbirds. Kelly Colgan Azar

A Centerpiece of Ecology: Pollinators are the critical link in the functioning of ecosystems and the stability of global food webs. Pollination webs explain the extensively mutualistic networks of pollinators, the plants they pollinate, and the creatures that consume and inhabit them. The plant-pollinator structure is a network of interactions between plants and pollinators. Remarkably, these networks are similar across ecosystems, with different species in various locations all interacting similarly.

Pollinators rely on habitable climate zones with steady sources of food and water. The degradation of natural spaces negatively affects their abilities to survive, let alone thrive and grow populations.

Image of A monarch larva.Zoom+ A monarch larva. Photo courtesy of Thomas W. Gorman.

It is important to note that insect-pollinators transition from one food web to another as they age. In the early development stages of life, grubs (young bees and wasps), maggots (young flies), and caterpillars (young moths and butterflies) rely on a very different food source. These young bugs also have different predators than they would later in life.

Needed by Specific Plants: Most people know that milkweed and bee balm are great for attracting pollinators to the garden. But, like us, pollinators have specific tastes that entice them. Listed below are some of the most common New Jersey pollinators and their preferred snacks:

  • Honey Bee: Astilbe, Bachelor Button, Bee Balm, Berries, Blue Lobelia, Campanula, Comfrey, Cleome, Coneflower, Cotoneaster, Cup Plant, Daisy, Delphinium, Fennel, Geranium, Globe Thistle, Helenium, Heliopsis, Honeysuckle, Hyssop, Lavender, Lily, Mallows, Milkweeds, Mints, Penstemon, Snapdragon, Sunflower, Thyme, Zinnia
  • Mason Bee: Angelica, Dahlia, Goldenrod, Heath Aster, Heather, Ironweed, Joe-Pye-Weed, New England Aster, Obedient Plant, Sea Holly, Sedum, Sneezeweed, Turtlehead, Verbena, Woodland Aster
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: Candytuft, Chives, Eastern Red Columbine, Lilac, Lyreleaf Sage, Penstemon, Scabiosa, Sweet William, Wild Petunia, Woodland Phlox
  • Great Spangled Fritillary: Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Borage, Butterfly Bush, Cardinal Flower, Caryopteris, Coneflower, Garden Phlox, Heliotrope, Joe-Pye-Weed, Lantana, Petunia, Salvia, Sunflower, Swamp Milkweed, Tall Verbena, Zinnia
  • Ruby Throated Hummingbird: (nectar plants) Abutilon, Aloe, Begonia, Canna, Cleome, Clover, Dahlia, Dianthus, Hollyhocks, Honeysuckle, Larkspur, Pentas, Zinnia, Ajuga, Baptisia, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart, Cardinal Flower, Columbine, Coral Bells, Cranesbill, Crocosmia, Azalea, Black Locus, Blueberry, Cherry, Lilac, Maple, Witch Hazel, Morning Glory, Plum
  • Baltimore Oriole: Amaranth, Bachelor Button, Calendula, Grasses, Impatients, Millet, Snapdragons, Sunflowers, Agasthache, Asters, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, Cup Plant, Lavender, Mallow, Milkweed, Stokesia, Thistle, Bayberry, Beautyberry, Blackberry, Dogwood, Elderberry, Hollies, Juniper, Mulberry, Raspberry, Serviceberry, Sumac, Viburum
  • Goldfinch: Alder, Beech, Conifers, Dogwood, Elm, Fruit Trees, Magnolia, Maples, Mulberry, Oak, Red Cedar, Redbud, River Birch, Willow, Arborvitae, Azalea, Buttonbush, Chokeberries, Clethra, Coralberry, Clethra, Elderberry, Hawthorn, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Sumac, Viburnums, Virginia Creeper, Winterberry

Human Health: Human health is largely dependent on the work of pollinators. Research conducted by the European Union’s STEP project concludes that crops with the most micronutrients, like minerals and vitamins, are almost all pollinated by insects.

Not only is a large majority of our food derived from plants pollinated by pollinators, but many of our raw materials for clothing, housing, and medicine also rely on the ecosystem service. The anti-malarial drug quinine is derived from the bark of the Cinchona species, while morphine is isolated from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Similarly, the cancer drug paclitaxel is derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew Tree. These life-saving drugs would not possible without pollinators.

Pollinators also support biodiversity, which in turn support human health. A diverse ecosystem makes us much less susceptible or vulnerable to disease outbreaks. It also provides important resources for medical research, which can result in developments in medicine.

Image of Black cherry tree flowers are an important food source for native bees in spring months.Black cherry tree flowers are an important food source for native bees in spring months. Ben Wurst

Aesthetics: Some of the world’s most vibrant and exquisite plants are perpetuated by pollinators. Ralph Waldo Emerson noted this beauty when he wrote that, “Earth laughs in flowers”. This laughter comes in unimaginable shapes and shades, from the purple iris and violet to the brilliantly orange jewelweed and native columbine. The aesthetic value that pollinators add to life is immeasurable, though nonetheless admired by wildlife and naturalists alike.

Besides the plants they assist, the pollinators themselves are among the most fascinating creatures to study. Hummingbirds, honeyeaters, and sunbirds are marvels of evolution and display brilliant plumage.

Butterflies and moths illustrate thousands of years of clever adaptation, wrapped in pure artwork. Pollinators and the plants they pollinate color our world and brighten our lives.

Key Species

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis): These bees live in colonies with a single queen and female workers. All rusty patched bumble bees have entirely black heads, but only workers and males have a rusty reddish patch in the center of their backs. Previously inhabiting grasslands of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, the bees now live primarily in underground and abandoned road cavities or clumps of grasses. The rusty patched bumble bee is one of the last to hibernate, due to its colony’s long life from April to September. They like to eat lupines, asters, bee balms, native prairie plants and ephemerals. Sadly, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is an endangered species that is threatened by habitat loss and degradation, intensive farming, pathogens and parasites, pesticides, and climate change.

Red Spotted Purple Admiral (Limenitis arthemis): This pollinator is a mimic of the poisonous pipevine swallowtail, with gorgeous blue markings and red spots on its underside. They prefer to live in birches, aspens, poplars, cottonwoods, and black oaks, which is why they are often found in wooded suburban areas.

Image of Bumble bee nectaring on Eastern redbud flower. These native trees provide food for hundreds of bees during spring. Bumble bee nectaring on Eastern redbud flower. These native trees provide food for hundreds of bees during spring. Ben Wurst

Bees: As the most renown pollinators, bees are what people often think of when they hear the word ‘pollination’. Rightfully so, since bees spend most of their lives traveling from flower to flower collecting pollen for their offspring. As bees collect pollen from one flower, grains stick to body hairs. These grains are then deposited to other flowers in a process known as cross-pollination. Many species of plant depend on this pollen distribution and reward bees with nectar, a mixture of water and sugars. Bees are responsible for pollinating much of our food, including coffee, chocolate, and strawberries!

Bees live in complex, productive societies with a fascinating social hierarchy. Within one hive, thousands of female worker bees are divided by age and task. Tasks range from cleaning and nursing to guarding and foraging. Male bees, or drones, fertilize the eggs of neighboring queens. The queen bee is the largest in the hive and is solely responsible for laying all of the eggs. Bees are naturally docile and only attack when provoked.

i. Honeybees
ii. Bumblebees
iii. Sweet Bee

Wasps: Despite their nasty dispositions, wasps do a lot more to help us than to hurt us. First and foremost, wasps act as natural pest controllers. These creatures feed crop-eating insects to their young and help farmers save thousands of dollars each year in crop damages. It has been suggested that a single wasp nest will catch about 5 metric tons of insects each year. Luckily, wasps are also valuable pollinators. Similar to bees, wasps collect pollen and nectar from flowers to satisfy their high energy needs. Though, they are less efficient pollinators because of their lack of body hair.

You can distinguish a wasp from a bee by their coloring and abdomens: wasps have a smooth, hard, almost armor-like exterior with stripes of black and yellow. Though wasps do have hair, it is not abundant and often hard to notice. Contrastingly, bees tend to be very hairy with colors often resembling orange or dark yellows. Wasps are also much more aggressive and will attack unprovoked.

Butterflies: In a display as beautiful as they are, butterflies perch on large flower heads to hunt for nectar. As they flit from flower to flower, butterflies collect pollen on their legs and cross-pollinate. Living as long as six months, butterflies pollinate during the day while flowers are open and have a much better color perception than bees—they can even see the color red, which bees cannot. Fascinatingly, they can find nectar by being able to see ultraviolet light, making flower markings very distinct to them.

Moths: Because moths primarily pollinate at night, they are attracted to pale or white flowers heavy with fragrance and nectar. Pale flowers reflect moonlight, making them easy for moths to find in the dark. However, some moths, like the hawk moth, pollinate during the day alongside their butterfly cousins.
Moths rely on thermal regulation processes and hairs to keep themselves warm during the cool nighttime air. They use flight muscles to make small, rapid vibrations, which require a lot of energy and a high metabolism. Because of their high metabolisms, moths drink large amounts of nectar. While many hover over the flowers they feed from, some take their time and drink nectar perched from the flower’s face. Either way, pollen sticks to their proboscis or feet and is transferred as the moth continues to feed.

Image of Burying beetle. Beetles were among the first insects to visit flowers and fossil records show that they were abundant during the Mesozoic period, almost 200 million years ago. Zoom+ Burying beetle. Beetles were among the first insects to visit flowers and fossil records show that they were abundant during the Mesozoic period, almost 200 million years ago. Blaine J. Rothauser

Beetles: Beetles were among the first insects to visit flowers and fossil records show that they were abundant during the Mesozoic period, almost 200 million years ago. Beetles continue to be important pollinators, especially for ancient species like the magnolia and spicebush. Unlike other pollinators, beetles are exclusively in search of pollen.

Flowers that are pollinated by beetles tend to be larger and produce a musty or fruity scent. Some scientists claim that beetle pollination is among the most inefficient and destructive. First, beetles eat their way through petals and other parts of the flower. After defecating within the flower, they roll around in the mixture of feces and pollen. This is why beetles are often called ‘mess and soil’ pollinators.

Flies (Diptera): Often seen as a nuisance, flies are actually important pollinators. Flies visit flowers for a variety of reasons, and similar to our other pollinators, search for pollen and nectar as a food source. In addition to food, flies visit flowers to lay eggs and mate with others. In colder regions of the world, flowers attract flies by providing warm shelters.

Don’t overlook the ecological importance of flies: they contribute to pest control, provide a valued source of food for birds and fish, act as decomposers and soil conditioners, water quality indicators, and of course, act as pollinators.

Image of Ruby throated hummingbird feeds on nectar produced by zinnias.Ruby throated hummingbird feeds on nectar produced by zinnias. Kelly Colgan Azar

Birds: Bird pollination, or ornithophily, is commonly carried out by hummingbirds, spiderhunters, sunbirds, honeycreepers, and honeyeaters. These birds are often attracted to plants with bright red, orange, or yellow flowers with very little scent. Birds have a very keen sense of color and little to no sense of smell, which explains their preference. These flowers produce large amounts of nectar to attract and feed the birds, along with large and sticky pollen that cling to the feathers of the bird.

Though birds are not known for pollinating food-growing crops, they are essential for wildflower pollination. There are 2,000 bird species worldwide that feed on nectar, the insects, and the spiders associated with nectar bearing flowers.

Bats: Surprising to most, over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers, including banana, mango, guava, and agave. Even the famous Saguaro cactus depends upon bats for pollination. The pollination of plants by bats is called chiropterophily and often involves pale, very fragrant, nocturnal flowers. Bats feed on the insects in the flower as well as the nectar, flower, and fruit parts of the plant.

  • Common Blossom Bat
  • Flying-Foxes

Five Ways You Can Help

Hopefully, it is obvious to everyone just how indispensible pollinators are to the ecosystem. Though pollinators are under serious threat, there are many ways we can help:

  1. Plant Natives/ or Pollinator Garden: Fill your garden and backyard with native plants that supports pollinator wellbeing! Provide pollinators with a place to live, eat, and lay eggs and ensure a healthy landscape for future generations. Plant Milkweed: Milkweed is the monarch butterfly’s only caterpillar host plant. A decline in milkweed directly correlates to the decline in monarch butterfly populations over the past twenty years, down a staggering 90 percent.
  2. Avoid Pesticides: Insecticides will kill some of our most important bee, beetle, moth, and butterfly pollinators. Herbicides will kill important native plants that pollinators rely on for food and habitat, like milkweed. Avoid using chemicals and make your garden and lawn as organically as you can.
  3. Give Bees a Home: Offer nesting spots for 4,000 bee species native to North America that don’t form hives. You can leave tree snags on your property, leave bare batches of sandy soil, or buy or build native bee houses.
  4. Protect Grasslands: American’s native grasslands are critical for pollinators, but are disappearing at alarming rates. Join organizations that seek to protect grasslands.
  5. Spread the Word: Tell your friends, family, coworkers, and classmates all about the importance of pollinators! Share information on social media or in-person and let others know how they can help solve this problem.

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