Nature Notes: Pollination and Conservation in a Fragile, Sensitive Environment
By Jackie Rath, Visitor Engagement and Education Assistant
The Ridges is celebrating National Pollinator Week 2022! Protecting pollinators is a necessary part of protecting The Ridges’ native habitat. In 2017, we planted pollinator gardens in front of our Nature Center. These gardens provide a food source and habitat for pollinator species in our ecosystem, including bees, butterflies, flies, ants, hummingbirds, bats, and insects.
We have many opportunities to integrate pollinator habitats into agricultural and urban areas here in the state. According to the Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Plan, land managers, growers, lawn care professionals and gardeners can aid pollinators by modifying current management practices to improve existing habitat or create new habitats. It is crucial to continue improving public understanding of pollinator health issues and actions that affect pollinators. An excellent way for Wisconsin residents, businesses, and agencies to begin taking action is through brainstorming and minimizing risks to pollinator health issues.
The creation of National Pollinator Week marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinators are critical players in the agricultural industry, providing pollination of crops. It’s estimated that they earn the agricultural industry over 200 billion dollars annually (Gallai, Salles, Settele, Vaissiere 2009). They also help the populations of native plants that pollinate reproduce, positively impacting their ecosystem.
The Ridges orchid research project is an integral part of a comprehensive land management plan to sustain the diversity of Sanctuary. As our orchid restoration project resumes this spring and summer (and as our highly anticipated first orchid blooms have begun to flower), I was curious about the key roles pollinators play in our orchid germination projects.
The Ridges is just one of many land managers that house orchid species. However, the two features that make us unique are 1) the diversity of species represented within such a concentrated area, and 2) the orchid restoration effort in progress along our Hidden Brook boardwalk.
“Orchids are one of the largest families of flowers in the world, accounting for roughly 10% of all flowering plants. Because their complex life history relies on specific conditions, including the presence of certain pollinators and fungi, orchids are among the first species to disappear when an ecosystem is dramatically altered or lost. This makes them a good indicator species – a botanical equivalent of the canary in the coal mine — providing valuable early warning for the declining health of an ecosystem and allowing conservation action to be taken before it’s too late.” (Special Issue Orchid Restoration Newsletter, Ridges Sanctuary 2015).
The complex makeup of orchids and how they interrelate with pollinators, soil, and fungi to create the right conditions to germinate has created a whole new level of respect for our self-taught volunteers who manage this project. Their pioneering and continuation of this vital orchid research has been an excellent way to teach members and visitors about the importance of conservation in a fragile, sensitive environment.
The Ridges’ outplanting effort is one of the most ambitious efforts in North America. Because its unique landscape supports 26 orchid species, the Sanctuary provides an excellent opportunity to develop best management techniques for repopulating key species. An example of how the Ridges has incorporated this at the Sanctuary is by utilizing microhabitats (small areas that offer high-quality food and shelter), which improve the health of local ecosystems by increasing the diversity of plants. Microhabitats, like the raised garden beds with native plants outside of our Nature Center, also provide a wildlife corridor for birds, insects, and other pollinators in urban areas.
By reducing distances between habitats, native plants and pollinators are more likely to inhabit these areas and produce healthy populations. Whether it’s a parkway or a front yard, microhabitats help support populations in areas where development and habitat fragmentation have reduced pollinators. As this important work continues on our properties, I hope that those reading this are inspired to create management techniques that work best for their own surrounding ecosystems.
Planting a pollinator garden in your backyard can positively impact pollinator species in your area, whether you live in the city, suburbs, or in a rural area (Matteson, Ascher, Langelloto 2008, Baldock et al., 2019).
In celebration of Pollinator Week, we will have a table with resources in our exhibit at The Nature Center for helping pollinators thrive in your local habitat. We’ll also be highlighting items from our Nature Store that focus on pollinators!
For resources on why pollinators are important and how you can help, click the links below.
Learn more about pollinators:
Grow your own pollinator garden:
Sources for data: