Top eight take-home messages of the urban pollinator conference

A complex topic of pollinator decline was discussed and demystified for attendees of the 2017 Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference.

Michigan State University Extension and North Carolina State University hosted the second national Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference in Traverse City, Michigan, Oct. 9-11, 2017. Approximately 142 participants with varying professional backgrounds attended the event, including researchers, educators, students, beekeepers, landscapers and arborists. The 23 sessions highlighted the breadth of issues threatening pollinator health and undermining their habitat. Approaches for educating and implementing pollinator conservation was the concluding topic.

Here are the top eight-take home messages.

1. The use of pesticides and their overall contribution to pollinator decline is still controversial.

Pesticides have been an established contributing factor to the overall decline of pollinators. However, according to international research, it is not the chief reason for our pollinator’s decreasing diversity and prevalence. The primary reason for bee decline is a range of virus and mite pests of bees. The scientific community is still highly polarized on the degree to which pesticides contribute to population losses. Using some pesticides is necessary to combat other changing problems, such as invasive species such as hemlock woolly adelgid. A thoughtful roadmap such as timing, placement and formulation should be studied before using pesticides.

2. Pollinator decline is complex.

Pollinator decline, or the decreasing populations of pollinator species, has many contributing factors. Loss of habitat, mite pests, viruses and pesticides are all factors causing the reduction in prevalence of many species. Because many of these negative factors are present simultaneously, it is hard for scientists to pin-point the degree to which each factor is affecting their population and longevity.

3. Developing universal best management practices is challenging.

Many organizations and entomologists have been developing best management practices during the last few years in order to protect pollinators and native insect populations. A whole session of the October conference was dedicated to sharing best management practices for all types of industries: from greenhouse growers to golf course managers. Some of the factors that make it difficult to make broad best management practices are: not all plants support bee health and they vary in their attractiveness to bees; pollinators differ in susceptibility to various biotic and abiotic factors; and communities have different levels of tolerance for naturalized areas and what they perceive as “weeds.”

4. There are an increasing number of successful pollinator health campaigns.

Over the last few years, there has been increasing number of successful pollinator health campaigns around the U.S., including MSU’s Smart Gardening for Pollinators, Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and Cincinnati Zoo’s “Buzz Troupe.”

5. Everyone can do something to help pollinators.

During the conference, many speakers made the point that everyone can help protect pollinators. One speaker gave the example of other threatened species such as polar bears—what can any one person really do to help the health of the polar bears in the Artic? Sure, people can donate to conservation efforts and have sustainable habits, but everyone, including you, can help pollinator health by building habitat. You can plant nectar-rich plants, naturalize an area of mowed turf, build a solitary bee hotel, among many other things.

6. Urban landscapes can be important for pollinator health.

Everyone, including individual landowners, can help pollinators. While urban landscapes do not compose the majority of land in the U.S., they are an integral part of the conservation strategy. They provide a network of habitat for migrating species such as monarch butterflies.

For example, Abigail Derby-Lewis from the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, showed maps of Chicago categorized by land use. Yes, the sprawling city of Chicago could not seemingly be pollinator habitat on a large level, but if you zoom in, there are actually many gardens and habitats for pollinators. Especially as the population grows, there will be increasing amounts of land dedicated to single-family homes, which can serve as new pollinator habitat if they plant pollinator friendly landscapes and focus less on turf areas.

7. Citizen science and Extension Master Gardener programs are wonderful tools for increasing pollinator health habitats and biodiversity surveys.

Extension Master Gardener programs across the nation and citizen science projects have been instrumental tools at helping many universities and organizations categorize biodiversity and increase pollinator habitat. MSU is undergoing a citizen science project now that focuses on squash bees in home vegetable gardens.

8. Very few species of bees actually have the characteristics often associated with them.

The opening keynote speaker of the conference, Laurence Packer, pointed out that bees are particularly misunderstood by the public. Did you know less than 4 percent of bee species actually make honey? Or that less than 3 percent of the world’s bees live in hives? The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is very unusual compared to the rest of the bees, which leads to all types of confusion. To learn more, check out “What do you really know about bees?” by MSU Extension.

Did you find this article useful?