Low pollinator populations this summer

I have noticed unusually low populations of pollinators this summer.  Very rare is the occasion this year that I have seen any pollinators at all on specific plants that, in past years, have been swarming with bees, flies, and wasps every time I walk by them.

One possible reason for the low numbers of pollinators could be the ever-increasing use of pesticides.  For the last several years, field biologists have been warning that pollinator numbers have been getting dangerously low.  You may recall the hype about Colony Collapse Disorder affecting honeybees or the outcry from many scientists and environmentalists that the abundant use of neonicotinoids (a group of insecticides outlawed in the EU but abundantly used here in the U.S.) is having severely negatively effects on native pollinators.

But, the low numbers this year could be due to the fact that we had an exceptionally warm winter.  Many plants began flowering remarkably early this year and many insects emerged very early due to the warm ground temperatures.  Then, in mid-March, we had about a week of very cool days with nights below freezing, and even a dusting of snow.  Possibly, insects that had emerged from hibernation early due to the abnormally warm soil temperature were unable to sustain themselves through that cold snap.  I certainly noticed far fewer canker worms in our trees this year than there typically are, possibly for that same reason.

When the numbers of a species fall below a certain threshold, it becomes very difficult for them to bounce back.  The many types of insects we rely on to pollinate our crops and that are relied upon for food by so many species of birds, amphibians, and reptiles are suffering a myriad of hazards these days.  Between pesticide use, habitat destruction (clearing of land for development), and the wacky climate patterns we’re experiencing due to the melting of the Arctic ice cap, it would be surprising indeed if populations of insects were stable!

At what point will we need to begin hand-pollinating our crops?  Apparently, in some parts of China, they’re already doing so.  I don’t think that is the kind of “job creation” our next generation will appreciate our leaving them…

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