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Consider Native Plants this spring

Apr 7, 2017

Consider Native Plants This Spring!

In the last 50 years the world’s population has more than doubled, and now surpasses an astonishing 7.5-billion free willed people. In such a short period of extreme growth, the environment has been forced to compensate for the additional people leaving landscapes compromised. Changes in land cover and agricultural management systems have given people the ability to migrate, settle and survive. These changes have supported human growth and development, but it seems many have forgotten we are not the only species inhabiting this planet. As human’s habitat spreads across the world, important habitats for pollinating species have diminished. Grasslands and forestlands have been converted into farmland and urbanized space. Humans have built up the world around them, but lacked to mitigate for the habitats lost.

Pollinating animals play a very important role in maintaining our world’s entire food web. Few plants self-pollinate so many are reliant on pollen vectors, such as wind or animals, to transfer their pollen grains from the male to female part of the flower. These bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other similar invertebrate species facilitate reproduction in nearly 90% of the world’s flowering plants, yet their hard work seems too often taken for granted. The loss of habitual land has resulted in greater competition among native wildlife and migrating pollinators alike. Competition for food and shelter, two basic means for survival, increases as rural lands are cultivated for human development. When changes are made to the natural landscape, the quantity and quality of habitat are reduced, resources become scarce and biodiversity is lost.

The abundance and diversity of pollinator populations are consistent with the availability of viable land. Urbanized areas remove much of the native landscape and replace open spaces with unnatural hardscapes. Urbanized areas, however, can actually provide decent habitat for pollinator species, but they’re dependent on people for creating them. The Maryland Bay-Wise program makes resources for landscape management practices readily available on their website www.extension.umd.edu/baywise. These practices will strengthen and improve the health of the natural environment, which creates good habitat.  Most pollinating species have shown to be resilient against the changing landscapes, but many populations have struggled to survive as habitat is lost and competition drastically increases.

In recent years, numerous pollinating animals have been Federally-listed as Endangered or Threatened species. The American Bumblebee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) is highly susceptible to the effects of invasive agriculture and has declined an astonishing 96% in recent decades. As of this March, the Bumblebee has been added to the endangered species list, and this list is expected to only grow longer with time. The fear of the threatened European Honey bee (Apis mellifera) extinction has been a topic for discussion in past decades, yet the trend is still declining. The Honey bee on the verge of extinction is a scary situation since we are so reliant on their ecosystem services. Approximately one third of every all food American’s eat is directly or indirectly derived from Honey bee pollination! Our current food system, however, is not in sync with the natural processes occurring in our world.

Large-scale, modern agriculture contributes to habitat decline by eliminating hedge rows and buffers for increased crop yields. Rural sites tend to have higher numbers and greater diversity of flower forage, which makes these locations well suited for diverse groups of pollinators. Pollinators are considered keystone species because their impact in terrestrial ecosystems plays a critical role in maintaining the structure of ecological community and affects many other organisms in that ecosystem. But as the world’s population continues to grow, so does a rising demand for food and the solution has been to replace natural landscapes with intensive monocultures. Wildflowers used to coexist along crop fields and provide habitat for many pollinators, but now these simplified landscapes offer little in the way of food or nesting areas. In reality, it seems we may be causing even greater harm to our food supply in the long run by completely draining landscapes of all natural resources, which in turn affects the health the environment and the keystone species within it

Environmentally friendly farming methods are not as widely practiced as pollinators and other wildlife need them to be. In England, they’ve begun paying farmers to plant wildflowers along their crop beds as a way to incentivize pollinator friendly practices. Similarly, we offer farmers incentives for planting buffers along waterbodies, a practice which benefits both pollinators and water quality. The United States Department of Agriculture has various programs targeted towards conservation, restoration and environmental improvement. Farmers can partake in relevant programs, such as Agriculture Management Assistance, and learn new ways to increase wildlife habitat, reduce soil erosion, enhance water supply & improve water quality. For more information about alternative farming practices and programs visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Despite the negative diction, pollinators still have hope. They have proven to be resilient in built up spaces, though abundance not high. We have the ability to influence greater numbers and diversity among pollinators and it’s really quite easy. What pollinators need for a suitable habitat is food, water and a nesting place. If you already have a garden growing you’re off to a great start! You can encourage a larger number of pollinators by planting a variety of flowers, ideally natives, of different color, shape, size, and smell with a range of bloom times. Although species such as the Monarch butterfly require milkweed plants for the caterpillar cycle, most pollinators are generalists and diverse plantings will provide a bountiful source of food that attracts many different varieties to your garden.

Numerous local organizations work to restore habitat across the Eastern Shore and educate communities about best conservation practices. The Lower Shore Land Trust is one of these organizations working to improve habitat for pollinators across large landscape level areas, in public parks and on private properties. This spring they are launching a Pollinator Certification Program to encourage pollinator friendly gardens. This program aims to enhance pollinator habitat and encourage conservation actions in backyards. The program is funded in part by the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council and strives to educate communities about the benefits of landscaping with native plants, important to the natural heritage of the Easter Shore.

Everyone can be part of the solution!  Incorporate the four criteria for heathy pollinator habitat - food source, water source, cover source and conservation measures, and you are well on your way to becoming a pollinator friendly yard. Becoming Certified Pollinator Friendly with the Lower Shore Land Trust will reflect your commitment to protecting pollinators and encourage others to learn about the benefits. Visit the Lower Shore Land Trust website www.lowershorelandtrust.org to learn more about how you can be a positive force for biodiversity! For additional information, contact Michelle Winters, AmeriCorps Service Member, at mwinters@lowershorelandtrust.org or 443-234-5587.