Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pollinators - Interconnectedness

There is a rare and beautiful flower growing along one small stretch of dunes on the California coast. Small and delicate, this white evening primrose blooms from March until September. This primrose is listed as endangered and is protected in the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Set about on all sides by fast-growing, aggressive, weedy neighbors, the primrose has needed all the human intervention it can get to keep a sandy toe-hold. Unfortunately, the plants still produce few fruits and viable seed counts remains low. For all our human care, we can not make them thrive. Only the Hawk Moth can do that.

The hawk moth is the main pollinator of the Antioch Dune primrose. Due to pesticide spraying at nearby vineyards, the population of hawk moths has declined, and so has the population of Antioch Dune primroses. Food crops are not the only plants that rely on pollinators (birds, bats, bees and other insects) and if we want to maintain the beauty and diversity of our world we need to keep in mind the connectedness of the world's living things. Designating pesticide free zones and maintaining buffers of natural land full of diverse, native plants will allow pollinators the habitat they need to keep up with their vital work. Plowing under a meadow of flowers to create another field for corn may be disturbing a vital "nectar highway" for pollinators. Due to their inability to span the disrupted area in a day, the pollinator will either starve while trying, or remain stranded on one side, unable to reach its food source on the other and continue its migration. Plant species disruption and decline is the result and that will simply be the first domino to fall.

The Federal Government does a careful job of protecting, tracking, counting and reporting on endangered species, be they plant or animal. One thing they have not been checking, even for endangered plants, is the availability of pollinators for those plants. The hawk moth enjoys a vigorous world wide population. There are close to 1200 species of hawk moth classified into 200 genera. That seems an awful lot of hawk moths. But there aren't enough of them on the Antioch Dunes in Contra Costa County, California. The primroses can tell you that.

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