Generating a Buzz

Few states are as committed to the conservation of pollinators as New York. The New York Natural Heritage Program, with help from SUNY Cobleskill’s Dr. Carmen Greenwood, and student Jayson Maxwell, is charging into year three of the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey, which aims to determine the conservation status of native pollinators. This past summer, it was Maxwell out in the field, assessing the status of as many of the 120 unique, potentially-threatened species of hoverfly as he could locate.

The survey is more than compiling records to monitor levels of decline. Once plentiful in New York, the State’s spread of old-growth forest is diminishing at an alarming rate. Certain species of hoverflies known as “saproxylics” are confined to the elevated mountain peaks of old-growth forests, living and breeding in rotten tree centers. The “genetic bottleneck” created by the deterioration of old-growth forest, and the dependence of hoverflies upon it, is indicative of the plight facing this insect population.

“It is really difficult for these insects because they are in isolated populations,” explains Dr. Greenwood. “And it is very difficult for isolated populations to breed. We need to carefully manage what old-growth forest we have left.”

The survey has a direct impact on conservation, making it a good fit for Maxwell and his aspirations. “My interests are in both conservation and restoration,” he explains. “This applies to this population of insects, and old-growth forests. I have developed an interest in working with insects through courses I have taken; the Native Pollinator Survey brackets that with the big picture – conserving and restoring for the future.”

The significance of pollinators on the planet has reached the federal level; it is in the hands of individual states to spearhead their conservation efforts. The New York Natural Heritage Program, and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are both involved in the survey. They are also involved in the calls to action and policies preempting the survey, and that are anticipated to come following its conclusion.

“Without insects, everything crashes, in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem function,” says Dr. Greenwood. “New York is leading the way – we have had one of the best reactions to the pollinator crisis.” She says the comprehensive nature of the State’s plan involves Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) working with honeybees “on the ag side,” and the Natural Heritage Program leading efforts with native pollinators.

Once the survey ends, officials will input updated records ranking the severity of the decline of individual species. Much is forthcoming, says Dr. Greenwood. Students such as Jayson Maxwell are among those whose work will determine the appropriate next steps.

Feature photo: Jayson Maxwell in the field.

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