The continual bad news about the environment is upsetting. While I can’t do much to persuade governments and corporations to behave responsibly, I can at least change my yard for the better. In 2017, I began including native plants to my Ottawa, Ontario garden and adjusted my garden maintenance practices to help pollinators. If many of us make these changes, it will add up to a significant change.
Vanishing insects: like canaries in the coal mine
Insect populations around the world have been declining dramatically, a phenomenon dubbed ‘insectageddon’ in the media. The ‘windshield phenomenon’ illustrates the noticeable decline in insects closer to home. Do you remember from your childhood, so many insects hitting car windshields at night that your parents had to stop to clean them off? That doesn’t happen anymore. (See Car ‘splatometer’ tests reveal huge decline in number of insects for details.)
If that means fewer mosquitoes and black flies, it sounds great, right? Wrong. Entomologist E. O. Wilson famously said that insects are “the little things that run the world”. Near the bottom of food chains, insects are essential food for many other creatures, such as birds and frogs. So, insect declines are causing corresponding declines in other wildlife populations. Insects are also critical pollinators of many food crops, as well as wild plants. Without them, we’ll all be in trouble.
Why are pollinator and other insect numbers declining? Pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change and the main reasons. Why insect populations are plummeting–and why it matters, an article by National Geographic, provides a good summary of this issue. For more, watch bumblebee researcher and author Dave Goulson’s TED Talk Why We All Need to Learn to Love Insects and video Averting the Insect Apocalype.
Pesticides kill indiscriminately
Pesticides are designed to kill insects, and they do so indiscriminately. If you spray a plant to kill aphids, any other insect that is exposed to the spray or its lingering residue, will also be killed, including bees and butterflies. Unfortunately, modern industrial agriculture is dependent on chemical cocktails of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Harmless insects are incidental victims. For more on how pesticides harm pollinators, and how to deal with insect pests naturally, visit my page Don’t use ‘cides in the garden.
Habitat loss, another leading cause
Habitat loss is another leading cause of declining insect populations. I used to think that habitat loss was just an American problem. After all, Canada has a relatively small population, and a lot of wilderness. However, in southern Ontario most wild spaces have been cut, bull-dozed, plowed and paved. A Government of Ontario page on Conserving Biodiversity lists habitat loss as a serious threat to wildlife in our province. According to Tallgrass Ontario, less than 3% of Ontario’s tall grass prairie remains, and Ontario Nature states that only 30% of Ontario’s original wetlands remain. Introduced invasive plants are also crowding out native species in remaining natural spaces, escalating habitat loss.
Eliminating habitat means that there are fewer native plants. In turn, the insects, birds, and other creatures that depend on native plants for food have fewer places to live. Some pollinators that once called southern Ontario home, like the Rusty-Patch bumblebee and Karner Blue butterfly, are no longer found in this province. Habitat loss is a contributing cause of their disappearance. You can learn about these pollinators, and efforts to restore their populations at Wildlife Preservation Canada.
Our remaining wild spaces are continually being chipped away, further threatening native pollinators and other wildlife. The Ontario Nature web site is a good place to keep up with current news, and efforts to combat habitat loss and hold our governments accountable.
Climate change threatens pollinators too
Wild fluctuations in temperatures, such as our increasingly hot and humid summers, are a consequence of climate change. The normal dips and wobbles in the Polar Jet Stream (Wikipedia) are becoming more persistent and amplified, causing odd weather extremes, according to the Discover Magazine article What’s up with all this wild, weird weather.
Bumblebees are particularly vulnerable because they prefer cooler temperatures. According to Bernd Heinrich, in Bumblebee Economics (at Ottawa Public Library), Bumblebees have adapted to cool temperatures; their furry bodies, and ability to shiver to warm themselves, allows them to forage and heat their nests in cooler temperatures. For more details on how climate change is threatening bumblebees, see Bumble bees being crushed by climate change, Climate change is killing off bumblebees, and Bumblebees affected by 2018 extreme UK weather.
What you can do
You can help pollinators, and other insect populations, in your own yard by avoiding pesticides and creating new habitat. I created a thriving pollinator garden, and you can too.
Next: Not just honeybees