The Mountain Garden Club held their monthly meeting last week at the Highlands Nature Center and was treated with a presentation about Plateau’s pollinators by Highlands Biological Foundation Project Coordinator Sonya Carpenter.
For starters, Carpenter said it’s difficult to quantify an insect population. All people really know is there used to be a lot, now there isn’t, in this case pollinators.
“People are creating more bug free areas,” said Carpenter. “Homes are bug free, yards can be bug free, once yards start overlapping, that takes away a lot of potential habitat. People may have a larger impact on insect populations than we’ve intended.”
She added that 85% of flowering pants require pollinators, and plants are a huge source of food for people whose diets would be drastically affected without pollinators buzzing about.
“Without pollinators, our diets would become really constricted,” said Carpenter. “They have become a huge part of our ecosystem throughout the world.”
Insects are low on the food chain and even in death, provide food for other species from their corpses. There are several different pollinators that reside on the Plateau. Some of the most well known are bees with over 20,000 species throughout the world and 3,600 species here in North Carolina. There are three major categories of bees; ground nesters, tunnel nesters, and hive bees.
Bees who are solitary do not sting because they are not defending their hive. They are active for a couple of weeks and are excellent pollinators because they are covered in fur and they are specifically looking for pollen to feed.
“If you create some good habitat, they will come,” said Carpenter. “70% of all bees are ground nesters.”
Hive bees do sting, as they must protect their home, but they are also equipped with a unique feature that allows them to get pollen called “buzz pollination.”
“They unhinge their wings and vibrate them,” said Carpenter. “Plants like blueberries and tomatoes don’t release their pollen until they’re vibrated at the right frequency. Then a shower of pollen covers their body.”
Other pollinators on the Plateau include wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths.
Threats to pollinators are loss of habitat, new pathogens being introduced, land use ethics, climate change, and use of insecticide, said Carpenter.
“People control so much of this planet, which is a good thing and a bad thing,” said Carpenter.
What pollinators need are food from flowering plants, shelter, and a pesticide free environment.
“Creating a healthy habitat for pollinators helps every other species,” said Carpenter. “Maybe be a little lazier with your gardening. Leave that leaf pile or let your lawn go a little longer than you normally would.”
She added that MGC had the first pollinator garden in town at Highlands School, a butterfly garden. The Peggy Crosby Center is also creating a pollinator garden on the steep banks along S. 5th Street in front of the building.
MGC President Anne Brissey said they are always thrilled to have Carpenter speak at their meetings.
“She’s an honorary club member for life, and we couldn’t be happier to have her here,” said Brissey.
All photos were taken at the Highlands Biological Station, the Kelsey Preserve under the protection of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, and The Village Green in Cashiers, N.C.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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