Protecting pollinators - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Protecting pollinators

Entomologist watches out for bees, bats, birds, insects

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Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:05 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Pollinators come in a variety of shapes, sizes and types — from bees and hummingbirds to bats and insects. Stephen Buchmann is trying to protect all of them.

Buchmann is a charter member of the Pollinator Partnership, a tri-national non-profit organization covering the United States, Canada and Mexico that seeks to promote, conserve and restore pollinators.

The organization has a number of initiatives, including the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a private-public collaboration of more than 120 partners where scientists, researchers, conservationists, government officials and stakeholder representatives work to support the health of pollinator animals, and the plants and habitat they support. The NAPPC (www.nappc.org) has been a working coalition for more than a decade.

"Roughly 30 percent of our food comes to us directly or indirectly because of the activity of pollinating animals, especially bees," Buchmann said. "Besides bees, other pollinators are hummingbirds, nectar bats and all insects, including beetles, butterflies, ants and wasps."

Buchmann noted there are 1,300 species of native bees in Arizona, and that many of them nest in the ground.

"Southern Arizona is one of the best bee habitats in the world and our native bees are very diverse," he said. "They pollinate all the native plants in the desert, such as creosote bush and prickly pear cactus, as well as agricultural crops, like cotton."

Hummingbirds are natural pollinators, too, Buchmann added, handling those duties for ocotillo, penstemon and many other desert plants.

The Pollinator Partnership also is involved in other projects, including the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network, Honeybee Health Improvement Projects, a pollinator curriculum for grades 3-6, Farm Bill programs, conservation innovation grants and pollinator gardens around the country.

The group also sponsors National Pollinator Week each June, this year working locally with Tohono Chul Park to showcase art projects and presentations by naturalists and scientists on pollinator subjects.

"Our organization also recently raised $500,000 for the National Academy of Scientists to study pollinators around the country," Buchmann said. "We also distribute materials on pollinators and their effect on our lives to schools and other organizations. We've also had commemorative stamps commissioned through the U.S. Postal Service that depicted the bumble bee, a bat, a hummingbird and a butterfly."

Buchmann noted that Pollinator Partnership also closely with the Wildlife Habitat Council, the federal Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.

He called honey bees the "workhorses of modern agriculture," and pointed out that while honey bee populations started collapsing in the fall of 2006, their numbers have now leveled off.

"There were six million colonies of honey bees in the 1950s and we're down to two million today," he said.

Two pollinators on the endangered species list have recovered a bit in recent years, Buchmann said. "First the nectar bat, which pollinates saguaro and other types of cactus, has made a comeback, and monarch butterflies, which have a mortality factor of 50 percent, also have increased their numbers."

Buchmann said his group encourages people to appreciate the beauty and usefulness of pollinators, especially because people depend on them for food, clothing, medicinals and dyes.

Steps that desert dwellers can take to attract pollinators, Buchmann noted, include planting window box gardens in built-up areas to encourage pollinators, planting native plants adapted to local soils and climate, planting in clumps to make plants more attractive to pollinators, and using a light hand with pesticides, if they must be used at all.

"It also would help if people were less tidy around their property and don't remove all the plants," Buchmann pointed out. "Leave some dead branches on trees for beetle larvae because many female bees live inside the beetle's exit burrows. You don't have to saw off and burn every dead branch on your property."

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