Pollinators: Here to keep the environment sustainable

DR. PAUL J. JOHNSON Guest Columnist

Pollinator conservation is a major environmental issue in much of the world in recent years, and with good reason. 

The ecological importance of pollinators is widely recognized, ranging from ensuring production of our most important and desired foods to providing primal aesthetic pleasures across campus. 

Environmental sustainability is premised on one goal: the maintaining of the biological and physical conditions of our existence in a familiar and positive manner. This includes many matters and issues, but one of the least recognized in our daily lives is the role of insect pollinators.

 Pollinators are organisms that come in a bewildering diversity of sizes, forms, colors and behaviors. When asked to name a pollinator, most people would give the exotic honeybee as an example. Though true, the honeybee is only one of thousands of species of bees, flies, moths, beetles and other little critters involved with pollination. In most areas, wild bees remain the most important pollinators. 

The food issue is vital with more than one-third of the world supply of veggies, fruits and seeds/nuts largely dependent on pollinators on decent crops, and the pollinator insects being mostly bees. The northern Great Plains veggie, fruit and seed/nut crops from small farms and gardens, and many of the more nutritious plants grazed by livestock, are dependent upon pollinator presence. So, there is value of pollinators to the production of seed to grow those veggies, fruits and seeds/nuts.

 Thanks to years of undergraduate and graduate student studies based at the Severin-McDaniel Insect Research Collection, we now know of more than 400 species of bees in South Dakota alone. In the Brookings area and South Dakota State University campus, there may be upwards of 30 species visiting the flowers of trees and herbs, our front yard flowers and backyard vegetables and fruits. 

These pollinators include the large bumblebees and metallic green sweat bees, to the tiny and shiny carpenter bees and the cute yellow and black hover flies. These are among the more common pollinators seen visiting flowers in McCrory Gardens and the community gardens. 

So, how do we make the main campus pollinator friendly and help in environmental sustainability? That is actually quite easy: we make the campus more pleasing to ourselves – plant flowers.  There is a wide variety of native herbs, shrubs and trees that can beautify campus and build its pollinator friendliness. 

Making the main campus pollinator friendly can be easily and quickly accomplished with little effort by having more flowers blooming through the breadth of the growing season. By including pollinator friendly native wildflowers in our decorative gardens and expanding the floral landscape of campus, we can be pollinator friendly, have a more attractive campus, reduce costs of turf maintenance and stretch our contributions to true sustainability.


Dr. Paul J. Johnson is a professor of entomology at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].