Where Are The Pollinators?

By Reinier Munguia

Recent explorations of nearby natural areas have sent shivers down my spine. Although it is widely acknowledged that our world is grappling with a severe decline in pollinators, I wasn’t prepared to personally witness this phenomenon. As a nature photographer I have documented wildlife in Florida and around the world for over twenty years. Having documented nature from the smallest of insects to the largest of mammals I consider myself really lucky for each of these encounters. The time spent outdoors observing nature has provided me with information to understand the factors affecting natural process.

When I first moved to Polk County in 2003, I was surprised by the abundant insect diversity I encountered while exploring trails in places like the Green Swamp or the Lake Wales Ridge. Even urban parks were rich sources of beetles, stinkbugs, butterflies, and bees. Those were the days when daily thunderstorms were the norm after 2 pm. However, I observed a shift as time went on, marked by less predictable weather patterns. Tropical storms grew more intense, and seasonal weather exhibited fluctuations, ranging from cooler-than-normal springs to milder winters. All these weather-related factors significantly affect insect populations, their foraging capabilities, and their reproductive success. To compound matters, there was a significant decline in honey bee colonies across the country, and these bees are crucial to food production. Fortunately, the United States is home to nearly 4,000 bee species, with nearly half of them specializing in pollen or pollination tasks, although none of them produce honey or live in colonies.

This summer, I chose to carry out insect surveys in various areas that had previously teemed with insect activity. To my surprise, even some of the most commonly encountered insect species were noticeably absent. Both cotton-stainers and stinkbugs were present in diminished numbers, and various butterfly species were also scarce. Disregarding the impact of weather conditions, it becomes evident that human activities are significantly contributing to the decline of pollinators, and a multitude of interconnected factors are in play. The reduction in insect populations can primarily be attributed to habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides. Any alteration in the utilization of natural land inevitably affects all the species reliant on that specific piece of land. The expansion of urban areas plays a major role in the loss of biodiversity, while poorly regulated large-scale farming and ranching operations exacerbate this decline. Among these factors, the use of pesticides appears to be the most harmful contributor to the decline in pollinator populations.

However, attributing the problem solely to these two factors may lack foresight. Our human lifestyle choices are jeopardizing insect populations. In Florida, homes are renowned for their luxurious lawns and elaborate landscapes featuring non-native ornamental plants that offer no support to insect populations. An increasing number of individuals are opting to remove their trees out of concern for potential damage caused by trees during storms. Insurance companies exert pressure on their policyholders to eliminate trees that could result in insurance claims. The increasing number of roads and automobiles also represents a significant risk to biodiversity, including pollinators. While many individuals can easily recognize the impact of vehicular collisions on the mortality of birds or mammals, few may have considered the extent to which insects are killed by vehicles on a daily basis. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated that between 89 and 340 million birds die annually in the U.S. due to vehicle collisions. Given these figures, one can only imagine the multitude of insects meeting their demise in your car’s radiator.

Although we have multiple choices to secure the survival of upcoming generations of pollinators, the solution begins with us, right at home, by creating the essential habitats. This can be achieved simply by reducing our lawns by planting pollinator-friendly flowering plants, establishing water features that can serve as a resource for insects, especially those with a water-dependent life stage, and minimizing the use of pesticides in our immediate surroundings. Additionally, supporting land conservation and preservation is crucial to guarantee that our pollinators and other forms of life have access to the resources they require, resources that we can also enjoy.

Pure Golden Green Sweat Bee
One of various species of pollinating bees native to the southeastern United States. 

Poey’s Furrow Bee
This bee is the workhorse of pollen transfer.

Palamedes Swallowtail
This bee is the workhorse of pollen transfer.