By Angie Latham Kozlowski
Pollinators — bees, birds, butterflies, bats, ants and even small mammals — play a key role in food production. The United Nations Environment Programme notes that of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90% of the world’s food, almost a third are pollinated by bees. In North America alone, honeybees pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits, including avocados, cranberries and apples. And while many grains and similar commodity crops (including soy) typically wind-pollinate or self-pollinate, these crops can have higher yields when pollinating insects are at work, as well.
Needless to say, we need healthy, happy pollinators to provide their critical service. Pollinator populations have been declining since the latter part of the 20th century, and particularly in North America and Europe. We can help ensure the well-being of pollinators, and a Laurel-based scientific research organization, the Eastern Ecological Science Center (EEEC), is at the forefront of local efforts.
The center, which was formed in 2020 when the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Leetown Science Center merged, is studying and tracking pollinator health and recently released research highlights on its website (usgs.gov/centers/eesc). This informative site also features the Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory – a collaboration between USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The lab supports students, academics, institutions and non-governmental organizations around the world. It has developed identification guides for more than 1,500 species of native bees and stinging wasps, and. is increasing its efforts to understand the complex subject of bee-plant interactions, too. Land previously used to raise endangered cranes within the Patuxent Research Refuge is now planted with native pollinator plants, and researchers have documented at least 200 species of bees in the new plantings. Some of these plants will be used create other biodiverse habitats for the bees, as well.
Pollinators need friendly home gardens, too, in order to survive and thrive — and there are many things we can do to help. Adding native trees, shrubs and plants to your yard or garden is one of the most beneficial things you can do, especially if you select plants that are pollinators’ favorites. Even a small wildflower garden will add to the ever-increasing number of pollinator-friendly habitats we have here. Removing invasive plants and limiting the use of fertilizers and pesticides will also help keep bees safe. Offering pollinators food, access to water and shelter goes a long way to save them — and our food supply, too.
And providing safe, healthy natural environments and food are critical for our essential bugs, bats and birds, too.
While good bugs — all those bugs we want to encourage — often succumb to habitat loss and pesticide exposure, birds are up against another challenge: glass windows. And trends in architecture have led to a dramatic increase in fatal bird strikes. Researchers estimate that one billion birds are killed every year in collisions with glass windows and building fronts every year. And birds don’t discern; they strike commercial and home windows alike.
You can take inexpensive steps to reduce window strikes at home. The easiest thing to do is to create a visual signal alerting birds that they’re flying at a barrier, one they can’t see. Applying decals to your windows, marking windows with patterned tape, hanging shiny CDs or drawing on your windows (erasable chalk or markers are great for this) all help birds avoid crashes If your windows have blinds, keep them at least partially closed. Consider installing outdoor shades or canopies over your windows, and be sure to use screens. And hang bird feeders relatively close to your home — no more than 10 feet from a wall or sliding glass door is ideal. As a bird flies from a feeder toward your home, it won’t be able to gain much speed over a short distance and likely wouldn’t hit a window too hard.
Want to do more? Consider volunteering with one of the many environmental committees in the city. For more information, go to cityoflaurel.org/green/get-involved.