Home Virginia Tech expert: Supporting native insects essential for survival of wildlife
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Virginia Tech expert: Supporting native insects essential for survival of wildlife

monarch butterfly on purple butterfly bush garden
(© Eric – stock.adobe.com)

National Pollinator Week is coming to a close, but it serves as a reminder for how essential pollinators are to the production of food and fiber.

Approximately 75 percent of all flowering plants need help with pollination and about one-third of all foods and beverages are generated by pollinators.

“When we think of pollinators and human benefits, we tend to think of honeybees, which are incredibly important for agriculture,” said Stephen LivingVirginia Department of Wildlife Resources habitat education coordinator.

While honeybees are primary pollinators for more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables, native bees also play an important role in pollinating crops like blueberries, squash and cherries. They also pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants around the world.

There are 458 species of native bees in Virginia. Pollinators also include beetles, flies, butterflies, moths and birds.

Pollinator populations are declining worldwide due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change.

Virginia Tech recently became Bee Campus USA-certified for ongoing efforts to conserve native pollinators.

Students, faculty and administrators work together to carry out commitments to provide pollinators with a healthy habitat that is rich in native plants, provides nest sites and is protected from pesticides.

“These commitments align very nicely with the campus’ commitment toward climate action and sustainability,” said Margaret Couvillon, assistant professor of pollinator biology and ecology, and chair of the VT Bee Campus committee.

Since spring 2022, volunteers have planted three pollinator gardens, improved the habitat of one garden and installed bee hotels around campus.

Couvillon’s research lab helps inform the committee on the best practices to improve pollinator health, including publishing a study of 25 common garden plants that attract abundant and diverse insect pollinators.

“Native plants do a much better job at supporting pollinators offering nectar and pollen for adults and serving as host plants for young insects to grow on,” Living said.

“If you go to a garden center and walk around, you can see what plants are attractive to insects because they will usually find it and come forage at it,” Couvillon said.

Supporting native insects also is important for other wildlife species’ survival, like that of the Carolina chickadee. It takes more than 6,000 caterpillars to raise a single nest.

Living encourages avoiding or minimizing the use of pesticides, and leaving fall leaves and standing dead plant material for native pollinators to use as winter cover.

For more information on native plants and plant guides, visit the Plant Virginia Natives website.

 

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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