Pollinators are in grave danger. According to a scientific report released by the United Nations, 40% of worldwide invertebrate pollinator species, including bees and butterflies, are facing extinction. The same report concludes that 16% of vertebrate pollinators such as species of bats and birds are also facing extinction.

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) launched a study with the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Entomology Department in the School of Agriculture on creating bee- and butterfly-friendly habitats through roadside vegetation management best practices. The three-year field study led by PhD student Lisa Kuder started early in April, just in time for National Pollinator Week which began on June 15.

“There is growing consensus that the decline in pollinator health is caused by many different, sometimes interacting factors. This means the solution also needs to include multiple approaches,” said Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp from University of Maryland’s Bee Lab. “This partnership is an excellent example of the multifaceted approach needed to help preserve Maryland pollinators.”

SHA and UMD are using seven roadsides as testing areas to strike a balance between maintaining roadsides while propagating native Maryland meadows, which naturally attract key pollinators.

The goal of the study is to compare the effects of two different cost-effective meadow management strategies, Integrated Vegetation Management and reduced mowing, on plant and pollinator communities. The study will include measuring abundance and species diversity, evaluating nesting opportunities for both ground and cavity nesting bees and assessing quality and availability of nectar and pollen.

Results from this study will improve understanding of roadside ecosystems, as well as provide state transportation agencies with data needed to create effective, thoughtfully designed meadows on a more expansive scale. Some native species include:

  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Sunflowers
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Golden Rods
  • Asters

Local, state, and the federal government are investigating measures to enhance pollinator habitats. Homeowners can help contribute to the cause by converting a small patch of lawn to a naturalized area so wildflowers can thrive. Gardeners are also encouraged to use natural pest control such as praying mantises and ladybugs rather than pesticides.

Restoring quality forage throughout the landscape will help support honeybees, monarch butterflies, and the other 425 bee species found in Maryland.