Vanishing honeybee populations may represent the most alarming example of ecological peril, but other pollinating species are also at risk.
“Not so long ago, it was difficult to venture outdoors anywhere on the East Coast without encountering the rusty-patched bumblebee,” observes writer John Upton in the online environmental magazine, Grist.
“Named for a small brown patch on their abdomens, these bumblebees have been pollinating plum, apple, alfalfa, and other crops since long before farmers came to rely so heavily on boxed and trucked European honeybees.
“Amid the plague of colony collapse disorder, some farmers are looking back to native pollinators like the rusty-patched bumblebee – as well as hummingbirds and butterflies — to help ensure that the nation can continue growing food. And in the process, they’re discovering a stinging reality that researchers have known for more than a decade: Many of North America’s once-plentiful bumblebee species have all but disappeared.
“The rusty-patched bumblebee and yellow-banded bumblebee have been among the hardest-hit in the nation’s east. In the west, the western bumblebee is in similar trouble. That’s bad news for the country’s farmers and backyard gardeners, not to mention its native wildlife. . . .
“Research published last year in the journal PNAS created some buzz around the bad bumblebee news. Scientists discovered that the abundance of some species has declined by as much as 96 percent over as little as two decades; their geographic range also shrunk by up to 87 percent. . . .
“The near disappearance of once-common bumblebees across the nation — and in other parts of the world — doesn’t only jeopardize our food supply. It puts into question the future of nearly every single wild plant that blooms.”
There are things people can do to help these embattled pollinators. Planting wildflowers in a garden or even in a window box can provide the year-round sustenance that many pollinating species cannot find in monoculture fields or orchards. And conventional farmers may discover what veganic farmers already know — there’s profit in doing the right thing:
“Bumblebees are so productive in canola farming that Canadian researchers reported in 2006 that farmers could maximize their profits by converting nearly one-third of their fields to native meadowlands, which provide the highly valued insects with habitat.”
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