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What’s the Buzz: Decline of Bees, Pollinators is Bad News for Ecology and Agriculture

Yet Recovering America's Wildlife Act Can Help

Photo: Robert Jackson, Bee on Bluebonnet

Consider the humble bumblebee. Honeybees may be one of the best-known insects in our lives, yet many people may be surprised and saddened to hear that a recent study found that 11 of 21 North American bumblebee species have seen population declines of 50 percent or greater. It’s one more example of the more than 1,300 species of concern in Texas that could get much-needed help from the proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). Bees alone pollinate 30 percent of our food sources, including apples, tomatoes, broccoli, sunflowers, strawberries, nuts and onions. The pollination service provided to U.S. agriculture by native bees has been estimated to be more than $3 billion annually. The added benefit to farmers is that pollination by native bees is essentially free, as opposed to leasing commercial honeybee hives for crop pollination. Texas has several hundred native bee species, including bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and long-horned bees. These play a critical role to maintain various ecosystems, pollinating plants that produce food for native birds, mammals and other insects. Bees are more effective pollinators than other insects, transferring pollen from flower to flower as they collect it to feed their offspring. A female bee may visit several hundred flowers a day and pollinate 5,000 blossoms in her lifetime.

Photo: Roger K. Allen, Bumblebee on buttonbush

Other important pollinators are also at risk, such as butterflies and bats. Butterflies pollinate many wildflower species, and they are themselves food for birds, small animals and other insects. Among the best known is the monarch butterfly, whose numbers plummeted so low in recent decades that it prompted a national, multi-partner effort to plant milkweed and take other steps to save the monarch.

Photo: Rachel Rommel, Monarch Butterfly

Texas is an important state for monarch migration, because it is situated between northern breeding grounds and Mexico overwintering areas. Monarchs funnel through Texas both in the fall and the spring. During the fall, by the third week of October most have passed into Mexico.

The possibility of losing valuable native pollinator services has spurred Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other partners to work to encourage landowners to create wildlife management plans that protect and support pollinators. The resulting publication “Management Recommendations for Native Insect Pollinators in Texas” outlines a variety of practices, most of which work for small backyards and large ranches alike. Across Texas, more people are helping pollinators with prescribed burning, native plant reseeding, installation of native pollinator plots and creation of nest sites. 

Native milkweeds, like Antelope horn, are a host plant for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, by Rachel Rommel

It’s yet another example of the kind of conservation work that could be scaled up and expanded with RAWA dollars. The Recovering America's Wildlife Act won’t pass unless people who care take action. Learn how you can help #RecoverWildlife at our tool kit page.

Photo: Roger K. Allen, Bee on sunflower

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