Shaping habitat and environment is part and parcel of all species– including the human race. We have been transforming landscape, by design, at such a scale that we are a major ecological pattern. With the population explosion in the last century, the growing density of cities and mega cities, and the rise of industrialized agriculture in response to the growing population, the types of landscapes we are generating are customized for human needs–simplified, and fragmented.
In the United States, some examples of our collective output with plants are a strong preference for certain species, from crops to city parks (such as the corn and soy crop, grown in rotation, which is the biggest ecosystem in the US, or the Norway maple, one of the most commonly preferred urban trees), fragmenting landscape, moving plants globally at a rapid pace, and increasing the use of ornamental plants and lawns (which offer less ecological value to ecosystems), to name a few.
A breakdown: native pollinators and the honeybee
Native pollinators are the reproductive strategy of 80% of the planet’s plant life, making them a foundation to ecosystems. They are most frequently bees (of which there are approximately 20,000 species in the world), but also include beetles, ants, birds, moths, butterflies, flies, gnats, and small mammals, such as bats.
When a pollinator is removed from a plant, the plant has a much-reduced seed set. The absence of pollinators across ecosystems is paired with the collective simpliﬁcation and potential unraveling of those systems.
In terms of native plant and pollinator interactions, there are a host of issues. Land fragmentation and pesticide use are at the top. In addition, climate shifts have created the potential for birds, flowers and pollinators to get ‘decoupled’ in their timing.
Honeybees are a beloved domestic collaborator. Long used for honey and wax, they have more recently become of primary importance in our monocultural agriculture landscapes. We use them at a mass scale in agriculture because farms, by design, have no biodiversity. As a result a relatively new practice was born: trucking in bees to pollinate crops at bloom time.
Native pollinators have historically done this same job, but they aren’t able to because there is not enough plant life to support them; the practice of trucking in honeybees is a symptom of this missing ecology. Colony Collapse Disorder has caused growing and well-founded concern about honeybees.
Supporting more honeybees is a wonderful cultural response, but not an adequate solution to the underlying problem- not only because honeybees spread pathogens to natives, or outcompete them, but– because they are a non-native species, their presence is part of this larger pattern of ecological simplification that characterizes the Anthropocene.
Reorganizing Human Landscapes
The Pollinator Pathway offers a counterpoint to this trajectory. The point of the Pollinator Pathway is to create organized backbones of connectivity within our simplified systems, creating a baseline of health – and a planned conversation between cities, farms, and wilderness. Considering these relationships– such as by avoiding all invasive species, choosing plants that are native to a bioregion, and using underutilized space to not displace sprawl – is key.
Old LandscapeOld landscapes feature a complex, interconnected web of habitats. This diversity provides ecological complexity and health– and multiple opportunities to connect plants and pollinators.
Modern LandscapeLarge-scale farms and urban landscapes create large parcels of mono-habitats. They fragment rather than connect the landscape. They provide fewer and more fragile connections for plants and pollinators.
Reorganized LandscapeThe Pollinator Pathway project connects landscape over existing ones, supporting pollinators, plants and humans.
The Pollinator Pathway asks us to connect fragmented landscapes between urban, suburban, and rural areas while incorporating principles of ecology and design–and in cities, making specific use of underutilized, existing infrastructure, in a growing partnership of design and ecology.
The Pollinator Pathway merges design thinking, ecology, and human systems–and envisions a shift in our perspective: planning for planetary boundaries. ‘Planetary boundaries’ is a framework- put forth by a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists–that outlines nine boundaries the planet must live within in order to maintain a ‘safe operating space for humanity’. We are surpassing the boundaries for four of these categories- climate change, biogeochemical, ocean acidification–and biodiversity.
The requirements for building a Pollinator Pathway are simple but they require serious dedication, research and effort to follow. We have laid out principles that we feel need to be followed for success of future projects. We are certifying projects in order to encourage ecological research, thoughtful planning and effective plant lists.