Pollinator Habitats

Presentation – Pollinators

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Pollinators Brochure Cover  

Why are Pollinators in Trouble?

Lg Carpenter Bee

The introduction of non-native invasive plant and animal species, habitat loss, disease, climate change, pesticides and modern crop practices producing large areas of land lacking plant diversity and good forage sources have all contributed to native pollinator and honeybee loss.


Neonicotinoid pesticides (Neonics) are systemic, meaning the plant transports them throughout itself and has them present in tissues, pollen and nectar.

In Ontario, neonicotinoid-treated seeds are most often used preventatively, even if there is no evidence of a pest problem. Almost 100% of corn seed and roughly 60% of soybean seed are treated with neonicotinoids. Unfortunately for pollinators, there is widespread over use of treated seeds.

The Canadian federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency concluded that the majority of honey bee mortalities in Ontario in 2012 and 2013 were a result of exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides. This is likely due to contaminated dust exposure generated during the planting of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed. Treated seed dust lands on the pollinators themselves or on surrounding vegetation and if not absorbed when cleaning themselves, the bees carry the pesticide back to the hive.

Honeybees form large colonies and honeybee behaviour encourages worker bees to gather from productive nectar source areas that may have been treated or contaminated by neonicotinoids. Once a worker bee locates a good nectar source, it flies back to the colony and communicates the location to other worker bees using the “bee dance.” The other bees then fly off to utilize this food source. This means whole colonies may be weakened or die due to exposure from a single source.

Effects on European honeybees include:

-death due to direct exposure

-Impacts to hive health through chronic exposure affecting pollen gathering, navigation and reproduction.

-Neonicotinoid residues brought back to hives are linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other diseases.

The Ontario government wants an 80% reduction in neonicotinoid treated acreage by 2017.

Native Bees and Pesticides

Pesticides seem to affect the reproduction of, or the offspring of the generation exposed to the pesticide. Fungicides are also suspected of affecting native bee larval survival, perhaps affecting their digestion or nest recognition. Toxic effects hundreds of times more potent to both native bees and European honeybees are observed when both pesticide and fungicides are present as when used individually (Maryann Frazier, entomologist at Pennsylvania State University).

A study of pesticides and their effect on native orchard pollinators by Cornell University, published in June of 2015 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found pesticides had less impact on native bee populations if natural areas were nearby.

Currently it is thought that having a significant amount of natural areas around agricultural areas:

-Provides a larger pollinator population, so if pesticides kill some, others can still pollinate.

-Provides refuge from constant pesticide exposure.

-Provides a diversity of available pollinators.

Current Limitations to European Honeybee Pollination Efficacy

“Because production of our most nutritious foods, including many fruits, vegetables and even oils, rely on animal pollination, there is an intimate tie between pollinator and human well-being,” Mia Park, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of North Dakota.

Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD, is having a huge impact on agriculture. American agriculture has relied on European honeybees for centuries. Honeybee hive managers are currently experiencing losses of 30-40% each year, with 70% losses occurring during the worst “colony collapse” years. Farmers dependant on rental hives face high costs or production decreases due to limited honeybee availability.

Crop pollination however, is possible without relying on honeybees.

Cornell University Researcher Mia Park demonstrated that some native bees, like the ground nesting Andrena species, crawl deep into flowers and are four times more effective pollinators than European honeybees. Based on this knowledge, researchers used only native pollinators to pollinate their orchards and were amazed at the results.

Advantages of Native Pollinator Species Sweat Bee

Many crops are pollinated more effectively by native species than by honeybees. According to Cornell University entomology professor Bryan Danforth, native pollinators are significantly better pollinators being two to three times more effective, and until colony collapse disorder created a crisis, the role of native bees in crop pollination has been unappreciated. With the right habitat requirements, native pollinators are more available and plentiful than honeybees, and the large variety of species are much less affected by the colony collapse disorder that has caused a large decline in honeybee numbers. Native bees are also pollen collectors, and transfer pollen more efficiently between plants than do their honeybee cousins who are more interested in nectar collection.

Introducing native plants to field edges or nesting/forage sites within fields attracts these native pollinators, while enhancing crop pest management by attracting native predatory insects as well. Since native pollinator species will only fly 200 yards to one mile to acquire pollen and nectar, large open fields would require strategically located nesting sites and forage plants. These sites could be located along drainage ditches, woodlot or forest edge, and other areas of marginal to low productivity. T-W Wasp

Native plants attract many predatory insects like wasps, ants, true bugs and beetles that are of great advantage in biological control of crop damaging insects. These predators are attracted both to the nectar and pollen food source as well as to the insects they prey on. They perform damage control while helping pollinate as well.

Having a diversity of native flowering plants suited to the soil type that flower sequentially from early spring to late fall will provide forage for pollinators. These plants can be introduced to marginal or fringe areas of low return like existing fence-lines, grassed waterways, ditches or streams to attract native pollinators.

Native plantings can further reduce phosphorus loading, improve soil conservation, water retention, and the environmental and aesthetic value of the land they are on. Planting native plants like the one’s listed here suited to the area’s soil types and growing conditions, will help native pollinators to access important food sources and they in turn will help pollinate our crops. Plantings are best done by choosing the plants best suited to the area in which they will be planted, then planting in clumps interspersed by clumps of other suitable species. When choosing native species, be aware of when they are flowering, since you want to offer the pollinator’s a food source for as much of the growing season as possible. Many native bee species have queens that overwinter, and need a food source that is available in the fall so they can survive.

The following charts outline native plants that attract native pollinators and beneficial predators for the growth conditions and soils present in the McGregor Creek watershed and most of Southern Ontario. Honeybees are the only species not native to Ontario on this list, but are included since they also contribute to crop pollination.

Chart Plants for Pollinators