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Conservation In Mind – World Bee Day recognizes important insects

By Frances Lamberts

“If you see a flower with a bug on it” today, May 20, being World Bee Day, says Professor James Wilkerson of Appy State University, “then take a picture and send it in.” Similar to the decline in bird populations over the last several decades, researchers who study insects are finding alarming losses among these as well.

Indeed, when did you last pull over onto the highway shoulder to wipe the windshield clear of squashed bugs, as drivers used to have to do?

The UNESCO report last year of a first global assessment of biodiversity – the totality of life forms in an ecosystem – found one-fourth of all species in plant and animal groups to be at risk of extinction. This would threaten security of our crops, as both the wild relatives of cultivated crops and the animals that assure their pollination and continuation are in serious decline.

Douglas Tallamy’s book on “Bringing Nature Home,” and several articles in the Science journal this year offer many sobering details on the status of insects, but also hope and practical suggestions for the home gardener, farmer and others.

Tallamy’s research in suburban landscapes in the Eastern U.S. found that about 96 percent of our terrestrial bird species rely on insects, spiders and other “little things” to feed their young. Yet a high percentage of the landscape, additionally to impervious, built-up city and road surfaces, consists of sterile lawns with alien trees and other plantings, inadequate as habitat for native wildlife. His surveys in Delaware suburban areas, for example, revealed insect fauna on natives to be from four to almost six times higher than on alien plants; his is a valuable handbook on restoring insect and birdlife in our home gardens.

A Science report on long-term surveys at more than 1,500 sites in 41 countries, going back to the 1960s, found terrestrial insect abundance – of bees and butterflies for example – to have been declining about nine percent each decade. Yet the freshwater insects – like mayflies and dragonflies for example, part of the food web in ponds and rivers or consuming hordes of disease-carrying mosquitoes – have been increasing by approximately 11 percent per decade. The authors attribute this lucky finding to improvements in water quality due to positive policy action, such as our federal clean-water laws.

All those “bugs” are essential, in pollination and food production and other ways, for our own, human well-being. “If we have more pollinators,” says Dr. Wilkes, “we’re creating more life.”