Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and bats are a vitally important part of our world—and we can help them.
Midwest Conservation Dogs, Inc. (MCDI) is excited to collaborate with industry experts and other passionate organizations to help mitigate the hurdles many pollinators face, such as diseases, loss of habitat, and chemical poisoning.
To prioritize this work, we launched the MCDI Pollinator Program in 2019. This year, while we prepare to assist with bumble bee nest surveys, we wanted to showcase four incredible pollinators critical to the Midwest landscape. These species have obligate partnerships, which means they rely on another species for a vital portion of their life no other plant could fulfill, and nearly 35% of our global crops and 75% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators (Source: USDA).
By directly saving one species, we can work to save another.
Pollination mutualism in the Midwest: examples of pollinator and plant species with obligate relationships
Monarch butterflies can only lay eggs on various types of milkweed and caterpillars depend solely on this plant for food. Similarly, Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species, relies exclusively on wild lupine for laying eggs and feeding caterpillars. Therefore, it is not only vital to protect the Karner blue butterfly and wild lupine, but also to protect the habitats where these plants grow, allowing these pollinator species to thrive.
Conversely, some plants require a specific species of insect to pollinate them. Bottle gentians’ flowers never open, which means only large, strong insects such as the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee can squeeze into the flower to reach its nectar. The rusty patched bumble bee populations have dwindled in recent decades mostly due to habitat loss and pesticide use in agriculture (Source: USFWS). Because conservation is connected, bottle gentian will reap the benefits of bumble bee preservation.
Then there is the small but mighty honey bee. There are over 500 species of bees found in the Midwest, but the honey bee is essential for pollinating fruits such as cranberries, a famous and popular crop grown in Wisconsin. While they are not the most efficient pollinators, the honey bee is a valuable pollinator due to their sheer numbers. In fact, beekeepers maintain migrating hives—colonies that travel throughout the United States to participate in pollinating events. If you like almonds, blueberries or peaches, thank a honey bee.
What you can do to help pollinators in the Midwest
Although situations may seem dire, we don’t need to despair; actions are being taken by organizations globally and throughout the Midwest to restore and protect these vital species and their plant partners. You can help as well! Planting native gardens with a variety of appropriate native species provides food sources, nectar, shade, and habitat for pollinators, expanding their range and helping them find food during migration. Reducing your use of chemicals can help too! In fact, residential use of chemicals is one of the largest threats to all insects. That backyard spray used to reduce mosquitos? It kills bees and butterflies too. Instead, consider planting naturally repelling plants for mosquitos which pollinators love like basil, bergamot and lavender.
What is MCDI doing to help local pollinators?
And how about our dogs? What is MCDI doing to help pollinators? Scent detection dogs have proven time and time again to be efficient and incredible at locating things humans struggle to find. Locating butterfly frass or bumble bee nests is a difficult task for humans, since frass is tiny and bumble bees nest underground. A conservation dog is efficient and non-invasive, which means they can traverse the landscape with less of an impact than their human counterparts—and find their target in significantly less time. This year, K9s Ernie and Betty White will be deployed to locate bumble bee nests in the coming months. We are excited to be a part of the conservation effort to help our vitally important pollinator friends thrive!
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation: https://xerces.org
Pollinator Partnership: https://www.pollinator.org/
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/endangeredresources/pollinators.html