Protecting native insect pollinators on private property now comes with new benefits for landowners.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Nongame and Rare Species Program developed new guidelines for landowners to develop wildlife management plans for their properties. If a landowner’s property is currently evaluated under an Agricultural Tax Valuation, they may qualify for an Agricultural Tax Appraisal based on Wildlife Management Use if they follow the new guidelines to protect and support native pollinators.
Because more than 95 percent of Texas lands are privately owned, effective native insect pollinator conservation requires private landowner involvement. Landowners can play a significant role in conserving and maintaining pollinator populations by applying management practices that benefit these species, which support the healthy growth of several agricultural crops for free.
The new guidelines are published in Management Recommendations for Native Insect Pollinators in Texas, which can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/TXNativePollinators. The guidelines outline a suite of different practices that benefit these species, from prescribed burning, native plant re-seeding and installation of native pollinator plots to creating nest sites. The various practices in the guidelines could be applied to small backyards and large ranches alike.
The guidelines address a growing problem: Native insects that are important to pollinating wildflowers and agricultural crops, including some bumble bee species and the monarch butterfly, have experienced dramatic population declines and are in need of conservation action. In addition, significant challenges to managed European honeybee health has sparked interest in native insects as alternative pollinators for agricultural production.
Pollination is one of the most vital processes in sustaining natural ecosystems and agricultural production. The majority of flowering plants that comprise Texas’ diverse ecosystems rely upon insects to transport pollen among flowers, ensuring the production of viable seed. Viable seed is critical for the perpetuation of plant species across the landscape. The annual value of insect-pollinated crops to the U.S. economy is estimated at over $15 billion.
Landowners who apply these practices to their lands will be supporting populations of native pollinators that aid in maintaining healthy plant communities on their properties, as well as those lands that surround them, thereby benefitting a range of other wildlife. In addition, landowners will be conserving and perpetuating native pollinators that can pollinate surrounding agricultural producers, potentially reducing the need for leased honeybee hives to pollinate some crops.
Although the non-native European honeybee tends to garner the most public attention, there are actually several hundred bee species that are native to Texas. These include bumble bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees and many others. These native bee species were here long before the honeybee and are critical to the state’s diverse native plant communities and agricultural production.
Of all the insects that visit flowers in Texas, including beetles, butterflies, moths and wasps, bees tend to be the most effective pollinators. Two traits make bees preeminent pollinators: First, they purposefully collect pollen to feed their offspring, transferring pollen from flower to flower as they forage. During a single day, a female bee may visit several hundred flowers, depositing pollen along the way. Second, bees tend to be specific about the flowers they visit. During a foraging trip, a female bee may only visit the flowers of a particular plant species. The benefit of such foraging preferences is that the plants’ pollen is not deposited on the flowers of a different plant species and wasted.
Native bee pollination is critical to the maintenance of Texas’ diverse ecosystems. Many of the berries, nuts and seeds consumed by birds, mammals and other insects are the result of bee pollination of native woody and herbaceous plants. Several crops, including blueberries, grapes, olives, peanuts, pumpkins, squash, strawberries and tomatoes are more effectively pollinated by native bees than the non-native honeybee. The added benefit to farmers from native bees is that their services are essentially free if adequate natural habitat is maintained around farm fields to support healthy populations of these pollinators. The pollination service provided to U.S. agriculture by native bees has been estimated in excess of $3 billion annually.
For additional information, please contact Michael Warriner, Nongame and Rare Species Program Leader, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.983.26350.