Pollinator Conservation

Bee and Butterfly together on yellow flower
Honey bee and butterfly dining together
Photo by Glenn Seplak

In recent decades, populations of important pollinators have been declining throughout much of North America. Beekeepers in the U.S. have been suffering from unusually high rates of colony loss of the domesticated honey bee (Apis mellifera). The abundance of several bumblebee species in the western U.S. has declined dramatically, with at least one species now believed to be extinct. And both the eastern and western populations of the monarch butterfly have declined precipitously, with the eastern population reaching a new record low in recent years.

With these continued declines, pollinator conservation has become a national priority. Recently the Desert Museum and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFBSA) began working together with the overarching goal of promoting healthy pollinator populations throughout the City of Tucson. This new partnership speaks to the fact that biodiversity and conservation efforts are, in fact, closely linked to food production, and in no case is that connection clearer than when it comes to pollinators.

Watch a short video about this collaborative effort to promote biodiversity and support urban agriculture in Tucson, Arizona.

In 2016, with funding from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, we launched an effort to create pollinator gardens at dozens of sites across the city. These garden sites not only provide high quality habitat for pollinators but also benefit urban gardeners and farmers, who rely on pollinators to obtain high yields of fruits and vegetables. But perhaps most importantly, these gardens have become places where city residents connect with biodiversity, where they can see and feel how nature benefits them.

Las Milpitas entrance sign
Entrance to Las Milpitas
Photo by Lois Settlemeyer

In addition to creating high quality pollinator habitat throughout the city, we initiated a long-term study of wild bee populations in Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, a six-acre farm in the heart of Tucson. Many wild bees are excellent pollinators of both wild and cultivated plants, and with continued declines in honey bee populations, supporting wild bee populations has never been more important.

The Sonoran Desert is home to a tremendous diversity of bees, boasting more species of bees than just about anywhere else in the world, yet we know very little about the status of wild bee populations in the desert. Growing evidence suggests that the same factors driving honey bee declines (poor nutrition, pathogens, and pesticides) may be impacting wild bees throughout North America. On the bright side, a substantial body of research has shown that wild bees can thrive in urban environments if their modest food and nesting resource needs are met. In fact, many of these needs are already being met through commonplace landscaping practices. For example, homeowners that use native plants in their landscaping, simply because native plants are easy to care for, are also, perhaps inadvertently, providing food for wild bees and a wide range of other wildlife!

So the good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help out our Sonoran Desert bees without spending a fortune to makeover your yard. Below we outline some simple steps that you can take to make your yard more bee-friendly.

Wild bee on globemallow
Wild bee visiting our native globemallow,
sometimes considered a weed
Photo by Glenn Seplak

Bee Friendly Landscaping Practices

As our city continues to grow, what will sustain a thriving bee fauna is not just a few spectacular gardens, but rather a network of small patches of pollinator habitat scattered throughout our city. Your yard or pollinator garden doesn’t need to be perfect to be of value to bees. I am reminded of the popular saying that it takes a village to raise a child. This is as true for bees as it is for children!

Planting a pollinator garden
Volunteers planting a pollinator garden at Las Milpitas
Photo by Kim Franklin
Learn more about how you can become involved, by participating in the Pollinator Hotspots Citizen Scientist Project!