Pollinator Plots Enhance Pasture Biodiversity, Ecosystems Services
November 5, 2017
Written By Fred Miller
Fruit and vegetable farms, gardens and other agricultural sectors rely on pollinators to ensure abundant production, but wild pollinator populations are in decline, says Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“The original prairies that covered much of the United States were species-rich,” Philipp says. Those species include many animals — bees, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects, as well as some birds, lizards and mammals — that move pollen in and among plants.
Those pollinators helped propogate abundant diversity of wild and cultivated plant species.
But farm fields and pastures today contain only limited food and forage plants. Typically, those plants do not provide good habitat for pollinator species, Philipp says. Most of the perennial grasses and herbaceous flowering plants that make good habitat for pollinators would be considered weeds in a pasture.
Pastures don’t rely heavily on pollinators, Philipp says, but they can make ideal places to locate plots of pollinator-friendly plants. Such habitats can encourage biodiversity that offers benefits to the environment, wildlife and neighboring gardens and farms that may rely on pollinators for abundant production.
Pastures make good places for pollinator plots because they are generally low-input and pesticide use is limited, Philipp says. Although many pollinator-friendly plants are undesirable in pastures, many areas around the farm may be suitable.
Philipp suggests that edges of fields, fallow or unproductive areas, wetlands and stream banks — including intermittent stream banks — and unused areas around farm buildings could make good sites for pollinator plots.
Deliberately planting habitat grasses and flowers for pollinators can provide other benefits. Such plants can suppress weed growth and halt spreading into pastures from peripheral areas.
Philipp says pollinator plots can be selected to complement existing habitats, such as ditches, fencerows and levees that offer nesting and foraging sites for pollinators.
“Leaving all or some of these areas alone can provide refuge for pollinators,” Philipp says. “Hedgerows and longer sections or patches of pollinator habitat will provide corridors for pollinator travel.”
Some forage crops, such as clovers and alfalfa, could also offer pollinator habitat or feeding grounds, though they normally are grazed or harvested before flowering. Philipp suggests that small areas of some of these forages might be set aside and allowed to bloom.
“Habitat and feeding grounds should not be farther apart than half a mile,” Philipp says. “Ideally, only a few hundred yards should be between feeding and nesting sites for smaller native bee species.”
Planting and maintaining a multitude of smaller pollinator plots around the farm helps keep those areas within reach of the insects.
In addition to providing pollinator habitats, wildflowers can help beautify farms and make landscapes more attractive.