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Protecting Pollinators

Resources to aid in the planning, establishment, restoration, and maintenance of pollinator habitat.

The Xerces Society produces dozens of publications each year to share the latest science-based conservation information; guide conservation efforts; and support farmers, gardeners, and other invertebrate enthusiasts in creating healthy habitat for the "little things that run the world."

The pollinator resources found on this page support habitat restoration throughout the mainland United States and Canada.

With the advent of chemical pesticides, the contributions of beneficial insects (those that prey upon or parasitize crop pests) were largely forgotten. However, pesticides alone have not solved the problem of crop pests—and of course, pesticides can have widespread, harmful impacts.

Conservation biological control (CBC) seeks to integrate beneficial insects back into crop systems for natural pest control. This strategy is based upon ongoing research that now demonstrates a link between the conservation of natural habitat and reduced pest problems on farms.

Bees are the most important group of pollinators. With the exception of a few species of wasps, only bees deliberately gather pollen to bring back to their nests for their offspring. Bees also exhibit a behavior called flower constancy, meaning that they repeatedly visit one particular plant species on any given foraging trip. 

From the iconic monarch butterfly to lesser-known butterflies, many species that were once-common are threatened due to factors ranging from habitat loss to climate change. The Xerces Society conserves lepidoptera by developing technical guidance for land managers with state and federal agencies, monitoring at-risk species, and advocating for protection of the most imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act and state- and regional- lists.

All bumble bees belong to the genus Bombus within the family Apidae. The family Apidae includes the well-known honey bees and bumble bees, as well as carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, digger bees, stingless bees, and orchid bees. Bumble bees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and crops. As generalist foragers, they do not depend on any one flower type. However, some plants do rely on bumble bees to achieve pollination. Loss of bumble bees can have far ranging ecological impacts due to their role as pollinators.

Developed for conservationists, farmers, land managers, restoration professionals, and community scientists, our Bee Monitoring Protocol and Community Science Guides are useful for documenting how native bee communities change through time in pollinator habitats. These publications include an introduction to bee identification, a detailed monitoring protocol, and data sheets for different habitat types.
A wide variety of animals perform the service of plant pollination. Among insects, some of our most notable pollinators include bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths. While the conservation status and extinction risk of most native insect pollinators remains unknown, we do understand which species are most vulnerable to extinction within well-studied groups like the bumble bees and butterflies. The Xerces Society is working to protect the most endangered pollinators, and have successfully obtained protection of the first – and only – eight native bees under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, as well as multiple butterflies. We collaborate with land managers and other researchers to develop and implement an evidence based approach to native pollinator habitat management.
Large and small companies alike are spearheading some of the most innovative and important pollinator conservation projects taking place today. Since 2008 we’ve seen retailers, food manufacturers, cosmetic companies, clothing brands, energy transmission and communications companies, and more, create meaningful and significant change for pollinators. And pollinators need more. We work to empower responsible private sector partners with information and direct support to help them join this cause.
Pollinators are an accessible and easy-to-understand gateway to the larger natural world. You can explore the role of pollinators in virtually any landscape and share the ecology of these fascinating animals with youth and community groups of any age and any background. Learn to identify the common groups of pollinators in your region, contribute to grassroots science, and become a community leader by sharing the pollinator conservation message.
Approximately 85% of terrestrial plant species either require, or strongly benefit from animal-assisted pollination. This includes many rare and at-risk plant species found in wilderness areas, federal and state public lands, parks, nature reserves, and more. The role of pollinators in these landscapes is invaluable for the perpetuation of plant communities and for sustaining the wildlife that depend on those plants.
Xerces empowers pesticide applicators and IPM professionals with access to science-based guidelines on the impacts of pesticides to bees, and practical risk mitigation strategies. As pollinator protection increasingly forms a cornerstone of Integrated Pest Management systems, it is critically important to understand how bees are exposed to pesticides, the potential lethal and sublethal impacts of pesticide exposure, and how to minimize those risks while still protecting plant health.
Gardeners and homeowners are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact in supporting pollinators in their landscape. Recent research has indicated pollinators may be faring better in urban and suburban environments where they are protected from monocultures and the widespread use of pesticides found in agricultural lands. While habitat fragmentation and pesticide use are also of concern in suburban and urban environments, gardeners and homeowners can directly make changes to their backyards, parks, and community gardens, and work with neighbors and community leaders to create habitat and adopt pollinator-friendly practices.

Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are the required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly and thus play a critical role in the monarch’s life cycle. The loss of milkweed plants in the monarch’s spring and summer breeding areas across the United States is believed to be a significant factor contributing to the reduced number of monarchs recorded in overwintering sites in California and Mexico.

The Xerces Society partners with the native seed industry to produce wildflower seed mixes meeting Xerces specifications, to provide foraging and nesting resources for a diversity of pollinators. For details about species composition, recommended seeding rate, and how to contact the producer, please download the specification sheet for each seed mix.

Meadows and other pollinator plantings can be low-maintenance, but are rarely if ever maintenance-free. Competition from weeds, invasive species, and woody plants can degrade habitat over time if a management plan is not in place. Management tools, such as grazing, fire, and mowing, can be used in a manner that benefits pollinators. The use of insecticides and herbicides can be harmful to pollinators; if they must be used, there are a few considerations to minimize their impact on pollinators. Read through below for more information and resources.

Overview

The importance of site-preparation cannot be overstated. Before planting, you will need to eliminate existing undesirable vegetation, eradicate weeds, remove plant debris, and ensure you have a clean surface that will facilitate good seed to soil contact or be cleared for using transplants. 

Successful pollinator habitat provides resources for the entire life-cycle. While pollen and nectar sources support adult bees and butterflies, you need to also provide adequate nesting habitat if you want pollinators to live in your landscape rather than just pass through. There are many ways to provide nesting resources through natural and man-made features or simply by changing land management practices. Below is an overview of the nesting needs of bees and butterflies.

Although birds, bats, and other creatures are also pollinators, insects are the animals that do the bulk of the pollination that affects our daily lives. Some of these insect pollinators will be familiar (bees and butterflies), but you might be surprised by some of the others (flies, wasps, and beetles). Here we provide an overview of these five main groups of insect pollinators—including their life cycles, habitat requirements, and conservation needs.

Bees and other pollinators touch our lives every day in ways we may not realize. They are responsible for as much as one third of the food and drinks that we consume, and contribute to the production of our clothes. They help define our seasons: The flowering meadows of spring, the berries of summer, the pumpkins we carve for Halloween and eat at Thanksgiving, and the southward migration of monarchs that signifies the approach of Dia de Los Muertos.

 

With more than 10 million acres of land in roadsides in the United States alone, transportation rights-of-way are a significant, yet often overlooked resource for pollinator conservation. In landscapes denuded of natural areas by agriculture or urbanization, roadsides, utility easements, and other rights-of-way are an increasingly important component of regional habitat networks. They can support native vegetation, provide refuge for wildlife and connect fragmented habitat.

While we often think about the impacts of pesticides used in agriculture, they are also commonly used in urban environments. Pesticides are applied in homes, yards, gardens, parks, and schools, among other places. Many of these pesticide applications can be avoided, benefitting both the wildlife that surrounds us and our own health. The Xerces Society works to help communities and residents reduce the use of pesticides in urban environments through trainings and resources on proactive alternative pest management.