Seeing as how the survival of 80 percent of flowering plants hinges on having animals to shuffle pollen around, bees and other pollinator insects form the cornerstone of almost any ecosystem.
According to the Zoo, almost 25 percent of birds and a wide range of mammals, from squirrels to bears, feed on fruits and seeds that are a product of pollination. Seventy-five percent of plants grown worldwide for food, condiments, spices and medicines also require animal-assisted pollination. Without the constant efforts of bees and other pollinating insects, the habitats for many animals could suffer.
Even so, many people might just be taking our winged friends for granted.
As terrifying as fuzzy little bees may seem to us as children, they aren’t invincible, and the conversion of natural habitats, overuse of pesticides and pollution have negatively impacted many pollinators and the services they provide to the ecosystem.
The Center for Native Pollinator Conservation is working to save pollinators on several levels.
The center’s goal is to focus on the importance and diversity of native pollinators, especially native bees, for the maintenance and survival of wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture.
The center has produced identification guides for both local and regional bumblebees for students, researchers and farmers. It also conducts bee surveys in the St. Louis area to observe bee diversity and abundance – as well as to identify possible areas of conservation concern.
The center also is teaming up with local community groups in order to educate individuals about native bees and develop “best bee practices” for local gardens.
Internationally, the center has helped establish and organize the IUCN/SSC Bumblebee Specialist Group, whose first initiative was to organize a worldwide network of bumblebee researchers to undertake the task of examining all 250 species of bumblebees to establish their conservation status.
It may be hard for many to work up some sympathy for the average bumblebee, but pollinator insects work hard to keep their hometown ecosystems healthy. Gardeners who want to return the favor can plant native flowers in a garden and avoid using herbicides. More adventurous options include becoming a queen bee and creating an artificial bee nest to help boost the local pollinator population. For other ideas and more information, readers are encouraged to visit stlzoo.org.