Pollinators provide one of the very tangible examples of how closely modern society and the natural world are intertwinedand studies have shown that decreasing bee populations around the world have a bee population decreases around the world have a negative impact on food production.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona have teamed up to lead local efforts in pollinator conservation, installing dozens of pollinator gardens and bee-and-butterfly habitat throughout the Tucson area.

Funded by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an international collaboration between North American governments, the Desert Museum says the new gardens do more than attract pollinators: They can help increase yield for urban gardeners, and they help people re-connect with the Sonoran Desert’s rare biodiversity.

The partnership with the food bank has also created a research opportunity. For about the last five years, researchers from the Tucson Bee Collaborative at the Food Bank’s Las Milpitas Community Farm have found a number of bee species on siteincluding some not seen anywhere elseaccording to the Food Bank’s May newsletter.

A major focus of the Bee Collaborative’s mission is to monitor the health of bee populations in Southern Arizona, particularly of native bee species. The Sonoran Desert is home to somewhere between 700 – 1000 native bee species, making it one of the most bee-biodiverse regions in the world.

Like the Desert Museum, the Bee Collaborative works toward raising awareness about species biodiversity. And as many Southern Arizonans know, native bees aren’t the only bees present in the region.

“Honeybees are extremely important for agriculture, we depend on them to pollinate our food crops. But they are in some sense competitors for our native bees,” says Kim Franklin of the Desert Museum. “They’re going to the same plants that our native bees are going to, and so they’re competing for the same resources.”

Conservation efforts encouraging local bee prevalence will be informed in the future by research currently in progress through these local partnerships, says the Collaborative.

But for now, to help bolster the proper environment for native bees, the Desert Museum and Bee Collaborative suggest that anyone can help by planting pollinator gardens wherever possible, including on your own property.

What can you do to encourage bees in your yard?

The Desert Museum suggests landscaping with native shrubs, cacti, trees and succulents to attract local bee species. Find a complete list of local plants, and the ecological niche they help fill, at the Desert Museum’s website.

Planting flowers in clumps, to help bees forage more efficiently. The insects also tend to specialize in certain plantsmeaning evolutionary traits attract certain bees to certain flowers. Experts say planing a variety of flowers will help attract a variety of bees.

Many native bees also have a need for bare ground. Ground-nesting bees are common in Southern Arizona, so according to the Desert Museum, local populations can benefit from open patches of soil. Other native bee species will use soil and mud to construct their nests.

Finally, experts suggest steering away from pesticide use, which can be damaging not only to bees, but a number of native species higher up the food chain.

More pollinator garden tips are available online.


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