Aiding Our Pollinator Friends
Signs Point Toward Improved Understanding of Habitats
Driving through the region, travelers may pass by patches of land with tall grasses swaying in the wind and colorful flowering plants shooting out of the ground.
These areas may look overgrown, and thoughts may even arise about how they need to be mowed to appear easier on the eye. Yet behind the growth is a thriving, healthy ecosystem full of native plants and insects.
These swaths of land, called pollinator areas, are vital to the advancement of biodiversity within the native environment. And the Tennessee Valley Authority is giving them a boost.
One way TVA promotes pollinator areas is by posting signs at various TVA locations frequented by visitors.
“The signs will educate the public on what we at TVA are doing to help and is a way to inspire people to think about why pollinators are important and what they can do or not do to help pollinators out,” said Suzanne Fisher, senior program manager of TVA Natural Resources Land Use.
What Are Pollinator Areas?
Holly Hoyle, senior specialist for Policy and Project Management for TVA Natural Resources, works closely with TVA’s pollinator areas.
“Pollinator areas are those sites that have the necessary makeup of grasses and flowering plants that serve to provide the right habitat for a variety of pollinator species,” Hoyle said.
Pollinator areas provide a home for a plethora of native pollinating species including bees, moths, beetles and butterflies. These insects provide many benefits to the native areas in which they reside.
“Pollination in general has been recognized as a critical ecosystem service,” Hoyle said.
These native insects conduct their biological processes within these pollinator areas which in turn provide many benefits for the environment and society.
Inviting insects to their native homes allows for the pollination of plants. This leads to improved production of healthy food for humans and other animals. Pollination is a required biological process for such plants to survive and produce food crops.
Often, these pollinators are feared by humans. It is important to note that these organisms provide great ecological value to the region. That buzzing bee or scuttling insect is actually essential to the ecosystem.
“Pollinators play an important role. They’re nothing to be afraid of,” Fisher said.
TVA is the steward of a variety of pollinator areas within the region, and the agency plans to add more. These areas are usually found within rights-of-way or within parks.
When creating these areas, TVA devises a plan specific to the land. This plan may be any combination of herbicide use, prescribed burns and other maintenance. These processes help remove the large, woody or invasive plants that would overshadow and take nutrients away from the native grasses and flowering plants needed to make these areas successful.
New pollinator areas look the most unkempt. This is purposeful. TVA specialists allow native plants to grow on their own with no trimming or cutting of the grass. However, this part in the timeline is vital to a successful pollinator area.
“It’s an important and natural step to get to the point of thriving and having the showy flowers and grass species,” Hoyle said.
The work put into creating and maintaining these pollinator areas aligns directly with TVA’s mission of environmental stewardship. These grasslands have proven to be helpful to the environment as they invite native species, increase pollination and grow biodiversity.
This past year, botanists showcased this success when they studied a rare butterfly species thriving beneath a TVA transmission line in North Carolina.
“The biodiversity benefit of converting a lawn that is comprised of a few non-native plants to a species of rich grassland is clear,” said TVA’s Adam Dattilo, botanist and biodiversity senior program manager in Biological Compliance.
As TVA continues to invest in these pollinator areas, the natural benefit will continue to grow. However, things as simple as planting flowers in urban areas and adding a few native plants to individual front lawns will help immensely.
“No effort is too small,” Hoyle said. “Every bit is valuable.”