by contributor Sher Morgan
There are over 450 native bee species in B.C., about 200 dwell here on Southern Vancouver Island. We often think of bees when talk turns to pollination, but at QCHCA’s November 12 Mapping Pollinators workshop, led by UVic Community mapping student Matt Evans, we learned birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, beetles and small mammals are also important pollinators. Moths, Matt says, actually have a greater impact than butterflies but because moths are largely active at night we are less aware of their role.
We need pollinators. 75 – 95% of flowering plants require pollinators to move pollen within the plant or from bloom to bloom, fertilizing to produce seeds and fruit. Some plants are self-pollinating and others, like grasses, evolved so their pollen is carried by wind, or water. Nevertheless from the perspective of humans’ basic food needs pollinators are among our best friends. 1 in 3 bites of the food you eat comes from a plant that requires pollination.
As important as the food we eat is pollinators’ crucial and intrinsic place in healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems clean the air, stabilize soils, provide shelter in severe weather, and support other wildlife. The worry is – pollinator populations are in decline with the most severe cause being habitat loss followed by pesticide use, disease, and changing climate patterns.
Pollinators need us. Pollinator Canada scientists and research partners have been studying pollinators for over three decades. The good news is that conservation techniques do work. If everyone – home owners, local governments, national governments, and private industry make the effort we can change the future for pollinators and secure our own. – Pollinator Canada https://www.pollinator.org/pollinators
Native plants vs non-native. Many of the ornamentals in your garden do attract and provide forage to pollinators yet where an ornamental might attract one specie of bee, native plants commonly attract many pollinators. According to an Audubon article large native trees are ideal larval host plants for butterflies and moths. More than 500 species lay eggs on the various oak trees native to North America. Enter the caterpillar. A nest full of chickadees needs more than 5,000 caterpillars from hatching to the time they leave the nest. By comparison fewer than 10 species of native moths for instance, lay eggs on ginkgo leaves. In our area, native perennials like goldenrod and asters support a lot of caterpillars –feed young birds a well as adult pollinators, thereby doing double duty. Native plants evolved with native pollinators and have intrinsic, interdependent value to ecosystems.
One workshop participant asked Matt, how stringent are you about native plants’ value for pollinators? I grow food. The response? Hedgerows are an excellent addition to gardens providing nesting and forage for birds and insects that may actually help in consuming some of the pests you don’t want. If you grow flowers, interplant native bulbs beneath your perennials. When you have to replace a perennial, choose a native pollinator. Native plants also commonly need less water, and are often deer proof. – see: Gardening with Nature https://hat.bc.ca/gardeningwithnature
Garry Oak ecosystems, a landscape beloved by Islanders, are one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada – less than 5% of the original habitat remains. Why does this matter? Because it’s not only about the trees! Garry Oak are the most biodiverse native ecosystem in Canada with many species occurring nowhere else in the country. Eight hundred insect and mite species are directly associated with Garry oak trees, 104 species of birds, 7 amphibians, 7 reptiles and 33 mammal species. But because so much habitat has been lost or degraded, approximately 100 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and other insects are officially listed as “at risk”. Several species have already been eliminated in B. C. including the island large marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides insulanus), and the Georgia Depression population of the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana).
What can you do? Much of the surviving Garry oak habitat exists as small patches in private yards, gardens and rural lots, along with public lands. If you have oaks where you live, let oak leaves remain around the base of Garry Oak trees and elsewhere. The Propertius Duskywing butterfly, a species at risk, over-winters in the leaf litter. – Garry Oak Gardener’s Handbook. Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team. 2011.
What are our neighbours doing? Invasives like blackberry and ivy tend to overwhelm native plants. Workshop student leader Matt Evans is one of many community heroes active in habitat restoration – pulling invasives and planting native plants. Within Quadra Cedar Hill, Friends of Cedar Hill Park is one of several volunteer groups doing the same. In 2021 FCHP neighbourhood volunteers invested 1600 hours in removing invasives along the Cedar Hill Park golf course chip trail benefiting the biodiversity, natural areas, wetlands, creeks, – and the pollinators who feed or live there – for future generations.
Participants learned a lot about pollinators at the November 12 workshop: why we need pollinators, what they need, and the benefits of creating and protecting places for pollinators to thrive. Urban threats to these precious pollinators are loss of habitat / urban development, pesticides, and GHGs/climate change. We can each help where we live by providing birds, bees, bats and all the other pollinators with:
Food and water. Plant or protect pollen and nectar producing plants that bloom sequentially throughout the entire growing season, especially native plants.
Shelter. Create nesting habitat for pollinators like bare soil, dried plants stalks and piles of woody materials. Which may mean resisting our propensity for pristine gardens!
Pesticide-free. Make your property pesticide-free, avoiding even pesticide-treated plants.
In her welcome to participants of the Mapping Pollinators workshop, QCHCA president Susan Haddon referenced SENĆOŦEN Language and Cultural revivalist Tiffany Joseph saying: Removing invasives, building pollinator corridors, returning habitat to its natural state can also be an act of decolonization.
Join us. UVic Community Mapping students (Geography 380) and QCHCA’s climate action group are partnering in a citizen science initiative to map pollinator habitat in our neighbourhoods. The Plan step 1 – to map existing pollinator habitat. The Plan step 2 – to engage residents in creating pollinator pathways for at-risk bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and insects in our region as the habitat they need to survive is encroached upon, and lost. (QCHCA News: What’s that Buzz? Mapping Pollinators in our neighbourhoods)
What is a pollinator corridor?
A Pollinator Corridor is a pesticide-free corridor or pathway of native plants that provides nutrition and habitat for pollinators and helps them to disperse into new habitats in response to urban development and climate change. Corridors can be created by linking natural areas, parks and boulevards planted with pollinator-friendly plants, backyard gardens, and transmission lines blooming with native wildflowers. Creating pollinator pathways requires coordination and planning, but the benefits are plentiful.
– Canadian Wildlife Federation
To learn more or participate in QCHCA Climate Action group’s Pollinator Corridor initiative email firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Pollinators