Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Roadside Bee Habitat

Wildlife thrive in habitat or cover that includes food, water, places to reproduce, hide from predators, and plenty of space. Much of the habitat for bees and insect pollinators has been altered for use in industrial agriculture, urban and suburban lawns, and paved parking areas and roads. Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Eric Mader of the Xerces Society spoke recently about pollinator reversing habitat loss. See http://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2014/12/keys-saving-our-endangered-bees-may-be-just-lying-along-roadside. They explained that loss of habitat is one of the three important drivers of Colony Collapse Disorder that continues to reduce managed honey bee colonies. The other two are the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides and increased virulence of some honey bee parasites, including the Varroa mite, and some fungal infections. Dr. Spivak explained that there has been much discussion involving banning the neonicotinoid insecticides to help the insects, however, she explained that they need “not just habitat but clean, uncontaminated habitat.” To maintain a robust agriculture she stated that “we need to try for a world with both pesticides and pollinators.” Industrial agriculture, involving vast acreage of cropland, offers little food for bees, poisons insects indiscriminately, and destroys their ground nests. Planting borders and untillable farm acreage in flowering, low-maintenance, native perennial plants were given as sources of food for bees and game birds. Planting milkweed can help monarch butterflies, and nitrogen-fixing clover cover crops improve soil fertility. Dr. Spivak’s University of Minnesota Bee Lab will be studying the effects of planting “bee lawns.”

 Dr. Spivak and Mr. Mader suggested that a solution to the loss of bee habitat could be conversion of mowed and sprayed areas along the nation’s highways into bee corridors. Corridors connect our pollinator gardens and pastures, making them much more effective habitats. Planted with native wildflowers, these right-of-ways could well serve our honey bees, native pollinators, birds, and small mammals. The future will see an interest in moving to roadside vegetation management plans to support our pollinators while beautifying our roadways.

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