By Doug Leier
I’ve always appreciated the complexities of nature, including the connection of individual fish and wildlife species to food, water, space and where they call home. If you hunt upland game, the importance of grassland habitat and pollinators is mutual to game and hunters.
Much of the information the North Dakota Game and Fish Department provides on these wildlife/habitat connections relates to species that are hunted, fished and trapped, because hunters, anglers and trappers provide the bulk of the funding for the agency.
Beyond the more obvious connections of ducks and wetlands or pheasants and grass, the foundational importance of insects and the beginning of the food chain are pollinators. Call them an indicator species, but if you read or hear about work to help monarchs or meadowlarks, it will also benefit those species you enjoy hunting.
Insects are a crucial food source for many wildlife species. We’ve seen firsthand in drought years when a reduced summer insect crops vital to newly hatched pheasants, grouse and partridge results in lower nest survival and smaller body composition going into fall and winter.
Many insects also pollinate the food that humans eat. Unfortunately, recent indications are that some populations of pollinators such as bumble bees may be declining. Several insect species have recently been listed, or are petitioned to be listed, under the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps most notable is the monarch butterfly. Scientists are still trying to understand the cause of their decline and if they are indeed at risk of extinction.
What is a pollinator?
A pollinator is any animal that moves pollen from one part of a flower to another plant. Pollen fertilizes the plant, and only fertilized plants make seeds or fruit. Without pollination, plants cannot reproduce, and our food supply and habitat would be reduced.
In North Dakota, the principal pollinators are insects such as native bees, butterflies and some moths. North Dakota has about 150 species of butterflies, more than 1,400 moths, and an unknown number of bee species (probably hundreds). Bats and birds, while important pollinators in other states, are not considered significant pollinators in North Dakota.
Honeybees, although not native to North America, are vital agricultural pollinators and will benefit from pollinator conservation in North Dakota.
Monarch butterflies are perhaps the most easily recognized butterfly. However, the population has declined from an estimated winter habitat of nearly 20 hectares in 1996 and most recently estimates of 2.35.
There are many ways citizens can help or learn more about monarchs and other pollinators in North Dakota. The Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov/wildlife/pollinators has a wealth of information on the importance of these fragile natural relationships, and how monitoring populations and implementing possible conservation programs can benefit individual species, which in turn improve the health of the entire ecosystem – for wildlife and for humans.
If you hunt pheasants or deer, it matters.
Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.