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Celebrate and support Virginia pollinators during national observance
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Celebrate and support Virginia pollinators during national observance

HENRICO—Much of the food we eat and the natural beauty that surrounds us depends on pollinators.

June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week, an annual event designated by the U.S. Senate to highlight how essential pollinators are to the production of food and fiber. According to the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership, about 75% 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 Living, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources habitat education coordinator.

He noted that 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% of all flowering plants around the world.

There are 458 species of native bees in Virginia. Other essential pollinators include beetles, flies, butterflies, moths and birds.

But pollinator populations are declining worldwide due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. Virginia DWR’s Wildlife Action Plan identifies 60 pollinators that are deemed “Species of Greatest Conservation Need.”

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," explained 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 added.

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.

Couvillon recommends delaying or partially mowing in the spring, as early season wildflowers offer important forage sources for bees and other insects.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage Program offers a native plant finder for selecting and finding sources for native plants.

For more information on native plants and plant guides, visit the Plant Virginia Natives website at plantvirginianatives.org. For more information on establishing a habitat at home, visit the Virginia DWR website at dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/habitat.

Media: Contact Shelby Crouch, Virginia DWR public information officer, at 804-802-1557, or Couvillon at 540-231-5707.

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