Iowa’s pollinator plants struggle amidst drought

Populations of bees, butterflies, and beetles could decline due to lack of blooms
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 6:31 PM CDT
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BUCHANAN COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa’s plant life has taken a big hit amidst current drought conditions.

Although farmers are feeling the massive impact of weakened crops as they head into harvest season, Iowa’s wild pollinator plants are also struggling to support their most common pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and beetles.

“So as the drought comes in, the number of blooms is decreasing. The period that the flowers bloom decreases because there are fewer blooms on an individual plant. And that is going to impact the pollinators that are using those flowers.” said Buchanan County Conservation Naturalist Sondra Cabell.

The relationship between pollinator plants and pollinators is cyclical, which means fewer blooms cause issues for the plants trying to reproduce and the pollinators trying to eat.

“Most of those insects want the nectar, and if there is no nectar on the plants, then they visit the flowers less frequently because there is less food for them,” said Indian Creek Nature Center Director of Land Stewardship Jean Widenheft.

Less food means potential declines in pollinator populations, especially in Monarch butterflies, as roughly 40% of migratory monarchs that go to Mexico over the winter travel through or originate from Iowa.

However, most pollinators produce large amounts of larvae, meaning their populations aren’t likely to dwindle after one year of drought. But if the drought continues into next year, it’s possible their numbers could decrease, too.

Experts say there are several things landowners can do to support Iowa’s pollinators.

“Reduce your chemicals. So, if you are using chemicals on things, that negatively impacts pollinators. Reduce mowing, where possible. So, if you have ditches, particularly in rural areas, if you can leave those areas un-mowed, or mow them maybe once a year. Or maybe not until late September so it doesn’t have as big of an impact on the pollinators.” said Cabell.

Planting native wildflowers like goldenrod, thistle, or milkweed also helps ensure pollinators will have enough food to migrate or keep their populations stable.