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DEC announces completion of New York’s first ever Pollinator Distribution Survey

  • / Updated:
  • Concetta Durso 

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the release of a multi-year survey of hundreds of pollinator species in New York State. The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey 2017-2021 provides the foundation for future pollinator research and conservation efforts.

“This new multi-year survey provides critical baseline information about hundreds of pollinator species in New York,” Commissioner Seggos said. “With the assistance of our academic and other expert partners, the survey helps assess the health of these species, which are critically important for our environment and our economy, and identifies recommendations to help restore pollinator populations in the future.”

In 2016, concerns over global declines in pollinators led to creation of New York’s Pollinator Protection Plan, which called for an inventory of the state’s native pollinators. With support from of the Using New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund, DEC contracted with the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) to develop and implement the survey. The full survey can be found online. The goal of the project was to determine the conservation status of a wide array of native insect pollinators, including four groups of bees, two groups of flies, two groups of beetles, and two groups of moths. Butterflies were not included because the current status of butterflies is better understood than the other species studied.

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To help design the survey, NYNHP assembled a team of experts from DEC, the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), Cornell University, SUNY Cobleskill, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York State Museum, Vermont Center for Ecostudies, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. During the project, biologists conducted hundreds of field surveys across the state, compiled data from museum collections, and reviewed observations from citizen scientists. Hundreds of volunteers provided tens of thousands of insect specimens, photographs, and observations. In total, biologists gathered more than 230,000 insect records. Using data from the study, NYNHP scientists generated maps of current and historical distributions and seasonal observation charts for 451 species.

“One of the biggest take-aways from our New York State Pollinator Protection Plan was the critical need for continued research to broaden our understanding of pollinator decline,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball. “We have been working to ensure funding is consistently directed in this area and have seen tremendous results with research conducted by Cornell, and now with this survey, which provides us important insight into our pollinator populations and the future of this crucial sector to agriculture.”  

Erin White, Zoologist and Project Coordinator with the NYNHP, said, “NYNHP is proud to continue our mission of documenting the status of New York’s biodiversity with this report on our native pollinators. We could not have done this without our dedicated partners and community scientists who allowed us to reach far and wide throughout New York. It is a sobering finding that more than a third of native pollinators surveyed are potentially imperiled and I hope this will prompt swift conservation actions to benefit these species.”

Melissa Fierke, Chair, Professor, and Director, Cranberry Lake Biological Station at SUNY ESF said, “ESF is proud to contribute to this vital survey of New York state’s native pollinators. These insects play a key role in the health of our ecosystems and our state’s agriculture. Knowing the extent of peril our native species face is the first step in developing a conservation plan to not only preserve the pollinator population but restore it as well.”

Carmen Greenwood, Associate Professor of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Science at SUNY Cobleskill, said, “The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey, as designed by the New York Natural Heritage Program, is truly an outstanding model that should serve as an example for other states as they assess the status of their pollinators. The fact that so many of these species are potentially imperiled or too sparse to make a determination of their status supports the critical importance of assessing these animals and continuing to assess their status into the future.” 

Findings from the study confirm concerns about the health of some pollinator populations in New York State. The survey found that between 38 and 60 percent of the species studied are potentially imperiled or critically imperiled. Although the survey documented 16 bee and fly species for the first time in New York State, recent sightings or records could not be confirmed for 79 pollinator species previously recorded in New York. The study found that more than one-third of the native pollinators surveyed are at risk of becoming extinct in New York.

Pollinator populations can be helped by conserving habitat, controlling invasive plants, changing mowing regimes, converting lawns into meadows, paying attention to the siting and density of honey bee hives to reduce competition and spread of disease to native species, controlling deer browsing of the understory, retaining logs and snags in forests, and reducing unnecessary outdoor lights for nocturnal species. Consistent with the Pollinator Plan, DEC is advancing actions to protect habitats and further research to study the causes of pollinator loss.

Pesticides also represent one of many factors that stress pollinators, and neonicotinoids in particular have been identified as a group of pesticides that, in general, are highly toxic to pollinators. Reducing pesticide use is another key way to help pollinators and earlier this year, DEC announced actions to limit the unrestricted use of pesticides that can harm bee and other pollinator populations. DEC is reclassifying certain products containing the neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and acetamiprid as “restricted use” to ensure applications are limited to trained pesticide applicators in specific situations. Restricting the use of these pesticides enables DEC to collect new data to determine where, when, and how they are used, as well as their potential impacts. For more information, go online here.