Wildlife: Pollinators keep the world green

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Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designates a week in June as National Pollinator Week. The effort is intended to draw attention to the invaluable services provided by bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, birds and other pollinators.

Plants reproduce when pollen (sperm) from male flower parts (anthers) reaches the pistil (site of egg production). After fertilization, seeds are formed.

Grasses, including corn and many other grain crops, are pollinated by the wind, but about 75 percent of all flowering plants are pollinated by more than 200,000 species of animals. When bees and other pollinators visit flowers for nectar, they pick up pollen and move it along to other flowers as they forage. Without the service of pollinators, these plants would vanish.

This is more than just a feel-good ecological tale. About one-third of the foods and beverages we consume require animal pollinators. Coffee, melons, squash, peaches, apples, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, blueberries and chocolate are just a few of these crops. The value of animal pollinators is estimated to be about $20 billion annually.

Despite the importance of pollinators, many are facing serious population declines. Bumble bee and honeybee numbers have been declining for years, and monarch butterfly populations appear to be at an all time low due in part to genetically modified crops such as corn and soybeans. These crops are made genetically immune to herbicides, which kill any "weeds" that encroach on crop fields. As a result, where genetically modified foods are grown, monarchs disappear because there is no milkweed upon which to lay their eggs.

Though the USDA promotes Pollinator Week, it permits the use of genetically modified crops. So as native plants disappear, native pollinators experience the same fate.

There are a few things everyone can do to promote pollinators.

• Plant a pollinator garden devoted to native species.

• Convert large corporate grounds into meadows of native wildflowers.

• Encourage golf courses and city parks to plant wildflower meadows.

• Spread the word about pollinators at public meetings where land management decisions are made.

For example, next month the new Cameron High School, near where I live in Cameron, W.Va., will receive a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School award. Its most conspicuous exterior feature is the colorful wildflower meadow that decorates the hill in front of the building. There's no need to mow the area, and it teems with butterflies and other pollinators.

Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, sshalaway@aol.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.

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