Before getting into specifics on providing food resources and meeting other pollinator needs, it’s useful to consider actions that restore or maintain habitat quality in general. While it is important to look at management within individual gardens, parks, or natural areas, it is also helpful to step back and look at habitat availability in the larger landscape. This is important because many pollinators do not use just one habitat patch but rather “commute” across the landscape looking for floral patches. For example, some large-bodied bees such as bumble bees and honey bees can fly over 1 kilometer (.6 mile) from their nest, so they potentially can visit multiple green spaces to forage from flowers. Other bees fly shorter distances from the nest and may be influenced by factors at a smaller spatial scale. Butterflies also vary in mobility, using small habitat patches transiently to refill on nectar as they move through developed landscapes.
Restore Early Successional Habitats
The best pollinator habitats in our region are so-called early successional habitats such as meadows or old fields with a diversity of flowering plants. Protecting and restoring remnant serpentine and calcareous grasslands, pine-oak barrens, and wet meadows may be important for protecting populations of rare pollinators. In areas where these habitats have become overgrown, it is often beneficial to mow periodically to prevent them from reverting to forest. Removing invasive non-native shrubs such as Tartarian honeysuckle, autumn olive, and multiflora rose that quickly encroach on a diversity of good nectar sources is also important, as is supplementing these habitats with additional native plantings. Transitional habitats such as forest edges with plenty of nesting habitat for wood-nesting bees or ground nesters should also be restored and protected.
In addition, there are pollinators that are dependent on forest habitats, such as forest butterflies and early spring bees, who forage on willow and cherry trees as well as ephemeral wildflowers like spring beauty. Pollinator conservation and management on the landscape scale should include habitat for these species.
In some parts of the New York metropolitan region, managing deer populations is essential to maintaining habitat quality. Although white-tailed deer are native to the region and fascinating animals, their numbers have increased to the point that they are overbrowsing natural habitats and damaging farms and residential gardens.
Deer often selectively browse on flowering plants that are a critical resource for pollinators. Working with municipalities and state wildlife agencies to manage deer numbers is an important component of pollinator habitat management.
Fire is an essential natural process for maintaining habitat quality in some parts of the metropolitan region, especially the serpentine barrens and pine barrens of New York and New Jersey. When fire is suppressed in these areas, natural open habitat and associated plant and animal species are lost, including important pollinator habitat. Prescribed fire (fire that is safely and carefully used in appropriate areas) can help maintain open habitat. Although fire is a vital management tool, it is best to burn only a portion of a habitat each year, leaving refugia for pollinators and other wildlife in the remaining areas.
Create or Maintain Habitat Corridors Through Developed Areas
Sometimes one habitat provides everything a particular insect pollinator needs to complete its life cycle. Other times more than one habitat is necessary to meet special needs for food or nesting. In developed areas these patches are often separated by inhospitable habitat that insects cannot cross, and it’s important to connect them.
When properly managed, roadsides can be effective corridors in urban and suburban landscapes. Allow flowering “weedy” species to grow along the roadways, and add native nectar- and pollen-producing plants. Research has shown that a healthy population of nectar plants will keep pollinators busy foraging on the side of the road and out of passing traffic.
Common areas of condominiums and housing developments can provide additional linkages when they are managed as pollinator habitat rather than lawns.
Playgrounds, parks, and schoolyards are other places that can be managed to provide critical habitat connectivity for pollinators.