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Wild Bees Threatened By Environmental Disruption

Over 380 Species of Wild Bees Threatened in Massachusetts
by Mary J Metzger
 
Homeowners can help stem the decline of wild bee populations by planting a diversity of native flowering plants in their yards and gardens. This was the message brought by Tom Sullivan when he spoke in Groton at a program sponsored by the Groton Garden Club and the Nashua River Watershed Association. Sullivan, owner of Pollinators Welcome, designs landscapes that combine spaces for wild bees and humans.
     There are more than 380 species of wild bees in Massachusetts, whose existence is threatened by many of the same things hurting the non-native honey bee. The fragmentation of habitat by human disturbance, use of pesticides, planting of exotics, climate disruptions to bloom and feeding schedules, intensive grazing, and a simplified monoculture, like the 70 million acres of lawn in the United States, have all led to fewer flowers for the bees to find food and nesting places.
     “Gardeners are critical, and native pollinators are four times as likely to visit native plants as introduced exotics.” Sullivan explained that the nectar food reward bees receive, in exchange for pollen transport, is a system worked out over millions of years between wild bees and plants.
     Planting a diversity of native flowering plants, shrubs and trees helps continue that intricate dance. Tall, medium, and low plants, diverse colors and blossom shapes encourage different bees that range in size from small sweat bees to large bumblebees. Flowers that provide three- season feeding, beginning with willows and violets in the spring to the goldenrod and asters of fall, support bees that emerge at different times.
     Unlike hived honeybees, most bees are solitary ground nesters. Bare patches of ground, tufts of native grasses, dead wood, and pithy stems of raspberries and elderberry left in the garden all provide nesting habitat.
     Pollinators are important for humans as one third of the food we eat is pollinated. 90% of Vitamin C in our diet comes from pollinated plants.
     Butterflies and moths also act as pollinators as they seek the nectar reward flowers offer. Their caterpillars are the base of much of the natural food web, providing spring food for many birds, whose populations are also declining. For the most part, these caterpillars can only use native plants.
     There are native plants for every soil type and sunlight situation. Riverberry Farm www. riverberryfarm.com has charts that describe bloom times and colors of many New England native pollinator plants, and has links to other resources. For a list of sources of native plants to purchase, check www. grownativemass.org.
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