Why save the bees?

Guest contributor Matthew Shepherd of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Director of Communications & Outreach 

We proudly support the work and mission of The Xerces Society. We asked Matthew Shepherd a few questions to learn more about what they do and why pollinator conservation is important. 


What is a pollinator?

A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen grains within or between flowers. This is important because plants can only produce seed or fruit after they are fertilized by pollen—and nearly 90% of flowering plants need a pollinator to move the pollen. For the plants, this means another generation of plants. For us, this means many things from fruit and vegetables to orange juice and coffee to cotton fabric for clothes. 


Pollinators are a diverse group of animals, that in North America range from bats, doves, and hummingbirds to tiny flies. The great majority of pollinators are insects, mostly beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and—the most important group—bees.


Why save the bees?

They are at the heart of a healthy environment, enabling the reproduction of plants, supporting complex food webs that feed birds and mammals, and providing up to one third of the food and drink that we consume.


There are roughly 3,600 species of bees in the US and Canada, ranging in size from bumble bees to yellow-faced bees almost too small to see. The honey bee isn’t native to the Americas, having been brought by settlers, but is often the only bee people think of. There are also leafcutter bees, mining bees, mason bees, yellow-faced bees, polyester bees, bumble bees, alkali bees, and many many more.


Why pollinator conservation?

Like all wildlife, pollinators are suffering from loss of habitat, climate change, and pesticide use. But unlike some wildlife (bears, elk, eagles, salmon…) they live all around us and we can all do things that will directly benefit them. Bee don’t need a lot of space, so planting flowers in your garden or local park really can make a difference. There is evidence that when there are more flowers, there are more bees, so you will have an impact.


Success stories from Xerces? What does Xerces do to help fill the space of pollinator conservation?

Xerces has been at the forefront of pollinator conservation since the 1990s—earlier if you include our initial work on butterflies from the 1970s onward—but it was publication of The Forgotten Pollinators that sparked a movement. Since then we have worked with thousands of farmers to create hedgerows and meadows, given advice to gardeners and park managers on pesticide reduction, written conservation guidance for pollinator habitat on roadsides, published scientific reports that have become the foundation for advocacy campaigns, trained tens of thousands of people pollinator conservation, launched community science projects, campaigned for protection of endangered species such as the rusty patched bumble bee, and partnered with agencies and businesses of all sizes to find new ways to create change to benefit pollinators.


How can people get involved – volunteer, at home, contribute, advocate, etc?

Yes, all of the above!


Volunteer – Xerces is gradually expanding our ambassador program to new areas, so directly volunteering with us is limited currently, but you can also be involved in community science projects such as Bumble Bee Watch and Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper. There are many other places that you can volunteer that can help pollinators.


At home – if you have a garden, grow pollinator-friendly plants such as coneflower, sunflower, aster, and milkweed; make sure you have some nest sites; and avoid pesticides. If you don’t have a garden, buy organic produce (if you can afford it). There is also Bee Better Certified produce beginning to appear in stores.


Advocate – write letters to your local newspaper, talk to your neighbors, ask your city parks department about their insecticide policies—and find out if your hometown is a Bee City USA.


Contribute – Xerces Society is a donor-supported nonprofit (https://xerces.org/donate/) and there are many other local or national organizations doing good work.


Why is saving that bees fun and cool?

I admit to being geeky about insects, and bee in particular, but one thing that I enjoy most is doing nothing. Sitting quietly and watching what comes to the flowers is a great way to see just how beautiful and amazing insects really are.




Photo Credits
File: 20160603_103205_After Installation_Cranberry Bog NJ_Photo by Kelly Gill_XS
Credit: Xerces Society / Kelly Gill
Info: Pollinator habitat planting along edge of cranberry bog in New Jersey.
File: Agapostemon_IMG_2127_MS
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: Metallic green sweat bee (genus Agapostemon) in cosmos flower.
File: Bmix_IMG_2487_MS
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: Fuzzy horned bumble bee (Bombus mixtus) foraging in salvia plant in a pollinator garden.
File: California poppy_two bees_jul09_MS
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: California poppy is a popular flower with bees. On left, a sweat bee (genus Halictus), on right, a bumble bee (genus Bombus).
File: Hedgerow_2013-03-29 10.10.19_XS-JessaKayCruz
Credit: Xerces Society / Jessa Kay Cruz
Info: Hedgerow of flowering shrubs and perennial flowers planted on a farm in California’s Central Valley.
File: Iowa Xerces PFI workshop Sarah Foltz Jordan OA (6)
Credit: Xerces Society / Sarah Foltz Jordan
Info: Farmers in Iowa learn about how to create pollinator habitat.
File: Melissodes_IMG_2027
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: Long horned bee (genus Melissodes) foraging in aster flower in a pollinator garden.
File: OlamAlmonds_20160408_142600Jessa Kay Cruz-OA
Credit: Xerces Society / Jessa Kay Cruz
Info: Pollinator habitat is planned to provide flowers through the season, supporting bees and other beneficial insects while almonds are not in bloom.
File: OR_HabSign_IMG_2449_XS-MS
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: Pollinator garden in spring.
File: OR_HabSign_IMG_2687_XS-MS
Credit: Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society
Info: Pollinator garden in summer.

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