In recent decades, populations of bumblebees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects have been declining, primarily due to loss of habitat.
The native plants where insects eat, shelter, and lay their eggs have been crowded out by development and by non-native invasive plants. They have also been severely impacted by the broad use of pesticides in industrial agriculture. Climate change and loss of dark skies at night are also taking a toll.
Scientists have documented astounding declines of insect populations all over the world. In the United States, scientists found the population of monarch butterflies fell by 90% in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals; the rusty-patched bumblebee, which once lived in 28 states, dropped by 87% over the same period.
The lack of pollinators has a detrimental effect on the health of our forests and fields, as well as on the health of the native birds and amphibians that eat insects to survive. Our native plants have evolved with specialist insects over hundreds of years; the plants need the insects for pollination, and the insects need the plants for food. Ninety percent of our native insects are specialists to specific plants or plant families. Our resident birds rely on caterpillars and other insects for 90% of the food that they feed their young.
To reverse this trend, SVT is improving the pollinator habitat on our properties. We’ve been removing invasive plants and adding seedlings of native wildflowers and shrubs at Wolbach Farm and Greenways Conservation Area. On a smaller scale, we guided a scout in planting a small pollinator garden at our Gray Reservation in Sudbury. An area that was once covered by grass is now filled with a variety of wildflowers that support declining species (or at-risk species) of bees and other pollinating insects.