One of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been returning to places where I helped design pollinator habitat. It is incredibly satisfying to witness the transformation of mowed lawn or marginal areas filled with invasive or other non-native plants into thriving, valuable ecosystems that support the hum of bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. This rewilding of the landscape is a significant part of the Xerces conservation mission.
Over the past decade, Xerces has worked with thousands of farmers and land managers to build over a million acres of habitat. Each of these projects, no matter how small, is meaningful and important to us. Our staff spend hours on the details, fine-tuning the mix of plants to suit the local conditions and support as many species as possible, determining how the site will be prepared and installed, and finding ways to protect the resulting habitat from pesticides.
We strive to create the highest quality habitat possible each time we are given the opportunity to expand biodiversity and help working lands come alive with the buzzing of insects.
Catchment habitat designed to capture nutrient and sediment runoff, like this flowering prairie strip at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, may be more ubiquitously contaminated with pesticides used in nearby crop fields than other types of habitat in agricultural landscapes. Photo: Lynn Betts, NRCS/SWCS (Flickr)
How Xerces incorporates science into our conservation actions
Let’s review the key takeaways from our dive into recent research on the risks of pesticide contamination of pollinator habitat, this time from the lens of our conservation work:
Flowering habitat that provides food and shelter for pollinators is critical for sustaining populations of these insects in all landscapes. Pesticide contamination reduces the quality and value of habitat, as pesticide exposure can reduce insect survival and reproduction. Xerces will always encourage actions to reduce pesticide risk, as reducing pesticide use and mitigating risks will improve the quality of habitat and the ability of insects to survive and thrive. With limited resources, we will always prioritize high quality habitat in areas that are lower risk for pesticide contamination.
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooms on a farm insectary strip in Minnesota (Photo: c. Karin Jokela)
Seeking systems-level change in agriculture
We also advocate around the risks posed to plants and wildlife by overreliance on herbicides for weed management across millions of acres of herbicide-resistant crops.
For myself, when I feel overwhelmed at the scope and complexity of the problems we are trying to tackle, I reflect on the buzzing of insects in habitat I’ve helped to restore, or walk outside to watch the wild and vibrant lives of insects, birds, and other wildlife in the perennial beds I’ve labored to build around my house. We may not have all the answers now, but the solutions remain simple: more wildlife habitat, fewer pesticides.