Almost half of state pollinators at risk of local extinction, survey finds

— Map from New York State

This map shows the locations where pollinator surveys were conducted as part of New York State’s effort to improve conservation efforts.

ALBANY COUNTY — Between more than a third and more than half of New York State’s native pollinator species are at risk of local extinction, according to the state’s first-ever pollinator survey report, which incorporates information from 151 surveys conducted over a three-year period.

Fly and bee species are the most at risk, with a quarter of species within each group receiving that designation. They’re followed by beetles, of which 19 percent of species are at risk; and moths, of which 15 percent are at risk. 

That proportion of at-risk species to all species identified is 38 percent of 457 species when excluding those that were not identified during the surveys except through historical records that predate the year 2000. When including those historical species, the percent at risk jumps to 60. 

The report notes that some historical species may not represent extirpations, or species that have been eliminated from the state, since they may not have ever had a true foothold here, having come from elsewhere and failing to reach a self-sustaining population level. Some may have been misidentified, and some “may be species that are so hard to detect that even a multiyear survey of hundreds of locations, plus community science, couldn’t detect them despite their being present,” the report reads.

The report defines “at-risk” as meaning any species that has an “s-rank” of either one or two. An s-rank of one means that a species is “critically imperiled” due to “very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.” An s-rank of two is similar but less severe. 

Beyond that, a species may be “vulnerable,” with moderate risk of local extinction; “apparently secure,” with low risk of local extinction; or “secure,” with minimal or no risk of extinction. 

The report does not appear to list how many species fall within each rank, except to say that 13 percent of species could not be ranked at all for various reasons, but data for each individual species can be found in the report’s 450-page appendix.

The report is part of New York State’s Pollinator Protection Plan, implemented in 2016 by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was following in the footsteps of President Barack Obama, who established a federal pollinator task-force in 2014, according to the New York Natural Heritage Museum. 

The state protection plan points out that pollinators are essential to New York’s economy, since it’s an agricultural state and pollinators — which include a broad range of insects, from bees and wasps, to moths, beetles, and flies — play a vital role in crop production. 

The recent surveys were designed to focus on native populations, excluding the European honeybee that are more popularly discussed and, the report argues, a complicating factor in the conservation of native pollinator species. 

“A growing body of research is showing that European honey bees (Apis mellifera) may outcompete, and transmit disease or parasites to, native bees,” the report states. “With backyard hives this issue is localized, but when hives are in high densities and forage in natural habitats, the native bee fauna may be depauperate. We observed many honey bees foraging in natural habitats during the Survey, suggesting the potential for impacts on wild bees.”

Other suggestions the report makes for protecting native pollinators include reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides, controlling invasive species, altering the way lands are maintained through mowing and burning programs, reducing light pollution, and converting lawns and “other biological deserts” into pollinator habitats, among others. 

In June, The Enterprise advocated in an editorial for No Mow May, which would have homeowners allow their lawns to grow freely for a month to aid pollinators. In July, The Enterprise editorialized against a proposed law in New Scotland that would have required lawn-mowing. The town of New Scotland has since tabled that bill.

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