Xerces Society and National Pollinator Week

To help raise awareness about the declining populations of many pollinating species, in 2017 the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to establish National Pollinator Week. Because pollinators are crucial not only to our human food supply but to the health of all life on the planet, there is good reason to care about them: our lives are intertwined with theirs. This year National Pollinator Week is from June 20 to June 26.

'The Real Dirt' is a column by various local master gardeners who are part of the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County.
‘The Real Dirt’ is a column by various local master gardeners who are part of the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County. 

A pollinator is any insect or animal that unintentionally, through its movements, carries pollen or the male reproductive part of plants to the female parts of plants, a process that facilitates the reproduction of over 85% of flowering plants. It has been estimated that more than two thirds of the world’s crops depend on pollinators, and the seeds and fruits produced by pollinators comprise a major part of the diet of many other animals. Perhaps surprisingly, bats, birds, small mammals and lizards can be pollinators, but most pollinators are insects. While the honeybee (introduced to the U.S. from Europe, and therefore non-native) typically comes to mind, in fact a diverse crew of butterflies, moths, wasps, ants, beetles and flies, and a dazzling array of wild bees, does most of the work of pollination. In fact, wild bees are primarily responsible for the pollination of the most agricultural crops, whether or not managed (as opposed to wild) honeybees are present. A diversity of wild pollinators has been shown to result in improved crop yields (Garibaldi et al in Science, February 2013). Unfortunately, many species of wild insect pollinators are becoming scarce because of habitat loss, pesticide use, introduced diseases, and climate change (of course, managed honeybees aren’t faring very well either).

The Xerces Society is an organization dedicated to working on behalf of these important native insects. Established in 1971, the nonprofit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation was named for the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces), a butterfly of the sand dunes of San Francisco driven to extinction by land development in the 1940s. Based in Portland, Oregon, the Xerces Society creates science-based programs and educational resources to facilitate protection of rare and endangered invertebrates and pollinating insects. While its focus is global, it currently has initiatives operating within California including the California Bumble Bee Atlas and Bumble Bee Watch, and the Western Monarch Milkweed mapper and Thanksgiving Monarch Butterfly Count. These initiatives utilize community members (citizen scientists) to help collect scientific data, an entertaining and educational way to be involved in insect conservation at the ground level. You don’t need any previous experience to join this team: the Xerces scientists provide the necessary training webinars to get you started.

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