“Scientist Sánchez-Bayo said he had recently witnessed an insect crash himself. A recent family holiday involved a 400-mile (700km) drive across rural Australia, but he had not once had to clean the windscreen, he said. ‘Years ago you had to do this constantly.’”
~ Damian Carrington
One of the scary effects of human actions on the environment is the “insect apocalypse”. Reporter Damian Carrington notes, “The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems …’” Global populations of butterflies, moths, bumblebees, dragonflies, ground beetles and leafhoppers are all in decline, some at alarming rates.
A recent global analysis published in the journal Biological Conservation says “… intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors … One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects.”
But others are working to combat the decline, particularly among bees, whose keystone function of pollination sustains much of the world’s agriculture. The Xerces Society identifies four ways to help pollinators:
1. Create a diversity of bloom
2. Protect nests and egg-Laying sites
3. Don’t use pesticides
4. Spread the word
Both urban and suburban areas can help to conserve pollinator habitat. Janet Marinelli reports on promoting safe habitats, “‘Surrounded by increasingly less hospitable rural and suburban landscapes,’ researcher Rebecca Tonietto and her colleagues write, the city ‘can become a refuge’ for the bee species and other insects that are suffering significant declines … Widespread planting for bees and other pollinators by landscape designers and gardeners is already underway.”
They go on, “One big advantage of urban areas is that people, like bees, are attracted to flowers … Although the native vegetation has been all but wiped out, the diverse human populations in cities plant flowers from around the globe. That’s a boon for generalist bees, which are not fussy about flower forage … ‘If everyone in a city of a million people planted even one pollinator-friendly plant,’ researcher Tina Harrison says, “there would be a million more foraging opportunities for bees.’”
Michael Joshin Thiele, an apiculturist based in California, advocates for creating more opportunities for wild bees. He notes, “With the onset of commercial beekeeping, bees have increasingly lived in settings that are not in line with their natural habitats … bees were not living in a way that matched their instincts.”
He also identifies that one problem with conventional beekeeping is hive location, “Many hives are kept at ground level,” he says. “But bees’ instinctual preference is to live 20 feet off the ground.” In addition, hives should be constructed of natural materials and spaced about 350 yards apart.
Many do-it-yourselfers make their own bee houses for wild and solitary bees native to their local areas. Unlike honey bees, these bees do not create large hives and do not use commercial bee hives. Many companies sell “bee hotels’ for this purpose, but they may not be suitable for all types of bees. The British web site, The Pollinator Garden, includes directions for bee house construction and maintenance, noting “The beauty of home-made bee houses is that you can use re-cycled or waste wood and logs and make them fairly cheaply.”
If you’re concerned about the future of our planet and our species, or you just like to watch nature do its thing, put a little effort into protecting the nature that surrounds you. Pollinators provide critical functions and there are lots of actions we can take to preserve them, even in our own bumbling way.
Damian Carrington, Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse of Nature’, 10 Feb 2019, The Guardian
Janet Marinelli, Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations, November 9, 2017, Yale Environment360.com
Steve Tarlton, Shoo Fly!, 12/13/18, Writes of Nature
The Pollinator Garden, How to Make and Manage a Bee Hotel: Instructions that Really Work, Updated November 2017
Vittoria Traverso, The Zen Beekeeper Returning Hives to the Wild, JUNE 12, 2019, Gastro Obscura
Xerces Society, Four Principles to Help Bees and Butterflies, Updated Feb 29, 2016, Pollinator Conservation