POLLINATORS IN THE SOUTHWEST
Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti), found only in sunny meadows within the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico.Photo credit: USFWS
The southwestern United States is a haven for pollinators. From moist river-side areas, to the Texas coast and marshes, to the semitropical borderlands with Mexico, to the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, on into the grasslands, and among mountain ranges and valleys, the landscape diversity provides a wide array of homes to insect pollinators, as well as birds and bats.
Bees are considered the most effective type of pollinator because they eat flower nectar and pollen and tend to forage in a focused way, which transports pollen and its encapsulated genetic material to plant reproductive parts directly. But the Southwest also hosts 18 species of hummingbirds and 3 species of nectar bats that migrate back south to overwinter; 2 of the nectar bats are on the List of Threatened and Endangered Species.
Native bees become most diverse in semi-arid to arid regions, mainly because of the drier soil conditions for nesting. Thus the Southwest supports the highest native, wild bee diversity observed in the US. Many bee species found in the Southwest within FWS Region 2 have narrow ranges, and approximately 35% of pollen-collecting bee species are oligolectic, that is having a preference for or specializing in certain specific plants. We do not yet know the actual number of species of bees or of any arthropods found in Region 2, but Texas boasts the most butterfly species of any state in the U.S., with 495 known butterfly species, and likely has the most moth species as well (over 500 are described, but more occur). Although about 400 bee species are known from New Mexico, Arizona likely has the highest native bee diversity in the U.S. A 2013 study of 6 sites in southeastern Arizona and the northern border of Sonora in Mexico representing Chihuahuan Desert scrub, grassland, and conifers, recorded 540 bee species, most of which were found at only one site. The unknown diversity of these taxa gives further reason to protect these fauna.
WHY POLLINATORS ARE IMPORTANT
Pollinators, such as most bees and some birds, bats, and other insects, play a crucial role in flowering plant reproduction and in the production of most fruits and vegetables. Examples of crops that are pollinated include apples, squash, and almonds. Without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds. The fruits and seeds of flowering plants are an important food source for people and wildlife. Some of the seeds that are not eaten will eventually produce new plants, helping to maintain the plant population.
In the United States pollination by honey bees directly or indirectly (e.g., pollination required to produce seeds for the crop) contributed to over $19 billion of crops in 2010. Pollination by other insect pollinators contributed to nearly $10 billion of crops in 2010. A recent study of the status of pollinators in North America by the National Academy of Sciences found that populations of honey bees (which are not native to North America) and some wild pollinators are declining. Declines in wild pollinators may be a result of habitat loss and degradation, while declines in managed bees are linked to disease (introduced parasites and pathogens).
These hard-working animals help pollinate over 75% of our flowering plants, and about 75% of our crops. The remaining 25% comprise the wind pollinated grasses, including rice, wheat, corn, etc., so pollinators are providing the vast array of flavors we all enjoy. Often we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. Yet without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, and almonds . . . not to mention chocolate, coffee, and many spices…all of which depend on pollinators. Medicinal herbs are also dependent on pollinators.
WHAT IS POLLINATION?
Pollination results when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is moved to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma) and fertilizes it, resulting in the production of fruits and seeds. Some flowers rely on the wind to move pollen, while others rely on animals to move pollen.
Animals visit flowers in search of food, sometimes to find mates, to find shelter, and sometimes to gather nest-building materials. Some animals, such as many bees, intentionally collect pollen as food, while others, such as many butterflies and birds, move pollen incidentally because the pollen sticks on their body while they are collecting nectar from the flowers. All of these animals are considered pollinators.
POLLINATORS AND THE USFWS
Within the USFWS, we strive to: raise awareness of and support for the value, conservation, protection, and enhancement of native pollinators and their habitats.
To accomplish this, we have outlined 2 broad goals and 7 objectives.
Goal 1 - Aid FWS staff and management in integrating conservation of native pollinators and their habitats into existing programs.
- Increase awareness for the FWS to integrate native pollinator conservation into existing programs.
- Promote the use of best management practices for native pollinators and their habitats within the FWS.
- Increase financial support for the FWS to integrate native pollinator conservation into existing programs.
Goal 2 – Promote support for conservation of native pollinators and their habitats outside of the FWS.
- Develop and provide pollinator outreach materials for FWS outreach events.
- Incorporate pollinator messages into FWS publications, presentations, websites, and other materials.
- Promote exchange of scientific information on pollinator conservation.
- Develop and maintain partnerships to achieve conservation of native pollinators and their habitats.