The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 17, 2013

County Extension: When it comes to pollinators -- if you build it, they will come

When it comes to pollinators -- if you build it, they will come

I recently walked past a perennial garden, in which nearly every plant was occupied by a bee, wasp, or fly, hovering and then plunging into the flowers for nectar. As I observed this beautiful interaction, a famous line from the movie "Field of Dreams" ran through my head:

“If you build it, he will come.”

Just as a fictional baseball park in the middle of a cornfield brought back baseball stars from the past, a pollinator-focused landscape can attract a variety of organisms where diversity is currently lacking.

This issue has become even more important now that more than 99 percent of Minnesota’s native prairies have been converted to cropland, roads and expanding human developments, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

When we replace prairies with a single-crop field or asphalt, we destroy the homes of hundreds of species of living organisms. These organisms are then forced to the remaining 1 percent of prairie -- primarily public parks, private land, ditches and small fragments of land unsuitable for farming.

I am grateful for the food that farmers work hard to provide. I travel on the highways. My house sits on a plot that was once forest. My lifestyle is made possible because of the sacrifice of natural ecosystems. I am responsible, we are responsible for that 99 percent. Guilty as one may feel, this isn’t just a moral issue, because as much as the wildlife depend on native plants, we also depend on the wildlife.

Take pollinators, for example. Pollinators, which range from bees and butterflies to hummingbirds and bats, serve as both predators and prey in the complex food web to which humans also belong. Just as importantly, more than one-third of our crops and 90 percent of flowering plants depend on cross-fertilization by pollinators to produce a mature fruit. Soybeans, apples, and tomatoes are just three of many crops that rely on strong pollinator populations.

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