Pollinator Primer

Pollinators, particularly native and managed honey bees, are in trouble. In the last 50 years, the U.S. has suffered an almost 50 percent decline in the number of managed honeybee colonies.

Trees Forever understands the interconnections of the natural world in creating a healthy future. We work with landowners and communities across the Midwest on projects that use native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers to provide a wide range of ecosystem services. Critically important to this functional landscape is habitat for pollinators of all kinds. Birds, bats, butterflies and other insects – even mammals – are all pollinators that are directly responsible for approximately every third bite of food we consume.


The Importance of Bees and Other Pollinators

While many animals contribute to pollination services, bees and other insects do the bulk of the work. Bees are considered a “keystone” species because of all the work they do for all other species. Managed honeybees pollinate roughly $15 billion worth of crops annually; native bees another $3 billion (2000 estimate.) Pollinator habitat is also habitat for beneficial insects that provide approximately $4.5 billion worth of natural pest control annually (2006 estimate.)

Managing for Pollinators is Simple

1. Nesting Habitat - Ideal nesting habitat for ground nesting bees is undisturbed/untilled ground (basically bare dirt) and direct sunlight. Tunnel nesting bees need woody material, such as old brush piles, to make their nests. Nesting habitat should be close to food source; foraging range is anywhere from 50 feet to ½ mile.

2. Food (Pollen) - Food needs for managed honeybees is a function of volume, while food needs for native bees is all about diversity. Native bees require a mix of forbs (flowers) and woody perennials all year long, from early in the season to late in the season. For best results, plant a mix of many different colored flowers.

3. Habitat Protection - Protecting a bee habitat from pesticides is of critical importance. Herbicides kill habitat food sources while insecticides kill bees directly. Buffers play a crucial role in mitigating damaging drift from adjacent fields. Timing of application and formulation of product are also management techniques to protect habitat.

Crop Dependence on Insect Pollinators

There are roughly 4,000 species of bees native to North America that fall into two general categories: honeybees and native bees. Honeybees are hard workers and provide the bulk of pollination services to commercial industries. They are more susceptible to stress and disease concerns.

Native bees tend to be more efficient at pollinating and require a more diverse food source that often specializes their pollination efforts. The table below shows the dependence of selected crops on pollinators for production. As you can see, crops like almonds and apples are entirely dependent on insect pollination to produce a crop. The column at the left shows the dependence on native pollinators of that total percentage. For example, squash is 90 percent dependent on insects for pollination and of that total, 90 percent is specifically attributed to native pollinators that may have specialized adaptations needed by the crop for proper pollination.

This information is also available in a print-friendly format:  Pollinator Primer PDF

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