Pondering Pollinators

Posted: August 17, 2018

In the mid 1800’s, Illinois was discovered as an incredible landscape for those who wished to settle in an ocean of tall grass prairie and rich soils. A prairie full of native grasses and flowers for hundreds of miles.

Our plant communities have since changed, as people inhabited this great nation. Today, if you look at our region on a planning map you have to search for the now few and scattered “green and native spaces.” In our effort to bring European beauty to our yards, we have altered the landscape and created a drastically different biodiversity.

We have transformed our views into a beautiful landscape for the human eye but have taken away most of the plants our native insects evolved with, the ones they recognize, the ones that provide the pollen and nectar they need to exist. Because almost everything in the food chain revolves around insects, we should be willing to give back what these tiny creatures are looking for and if nothing else for our own survival.

Unfortunately, insects are very small and many people think they are terrifying enough, let alone to invite them into your yard. With a history of attacking our food, our homes, our bodies, and our very civilization, bugs are rarely regarded in a favorable light.

Massive conservation efforts revolve around pandas, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, our own bald eagle and many more endangered species. All of which are displayed as graceful and sweet, in theory. In comparison, the insect as a worthy conservation project is a hard sell.

There is no doubt that charismatic species help focus attention on the dangers of poaching, habitat destruction, pollution, and general environmental degradation, but plenty of areas in need of protection do not have one of these endangered animals to attract the reader or the inspiration of a donor. However, all habitats have insects.

The power of insects is not in the individual itself, but in the ecological services of the masses.  The insect world is incredibly diverse, and mostly yet unknown. Experts cannot agree on the possible number of species but some resources claim it is possible there are up to 30 million insect varieties.

Researchers found 80 percent of the plant species providing food worldwide depend on pollination by animals, almost all of which are insects. These include beverages, fibers, condiments, spices, and medicines. More than half of the world’s diet of fats and oils come from oilseed crops, many of which are pollinated by animals, including cotton, palm oil, canola, and sunflowers. Pollinators predominate the middle section of virtually every terrestrial food chain. They eat and are eaten, keeping the food chain intact.

Peggy Doty, Educator, University of Illinois Extension