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The importance of pollinator conservation

February 2, 2014 - 8:11am

Bees are very important pollinators for many agricultural crops as well as ornamental flowering plants. Hawaii’s bee population is severely threatened by recently arrived pests and diseases. Those concerned about the declining numbers of pollinators will have an opportunity to learn ways to encourage and help conserve habitats for bees and other pollinators from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have joined forces to offer the Pollinator Conservation Short Course. The course is designed to serve those who work in agriculture related fields including growers of crops that require pollination. It is also being supported by concerned businesses and organizations including Whole Foods Market and the Hawaii Organic Farming Association as well as Hawaii Community College’s Sustainability Program.

The course will explore ways to conserve pollinators. More than two-thirds of the world’s crop species depend on pollination for their existence. Beyond agriculture, our ecological balance is partially maintained by the actions of pollinators that are responsible for the seeds and fruits that feed wildlife. Conservation of pollinating insects is critically important to preserving biodiversity in nature, as well as in agriculture.

In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences released Status of Pollinators in North America, calling attention to the decline of our pollinators. The report urges increased awareness and protection of pollinators and their habitats. This Pollinator Conservation Short Course was developed to address this need.

The course will focus on the conservation of native pollinators and using native plants as a high quality habitat for these pollinators. Several area experts will speak and a new technical paper, Habitat Planning for Pollinators in the Pacific Islands Area, will be provided to attendees.

Eric Lee-Mader, assistant pollinator program director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation will be the primary instructor at the conservation course with help from experts from the USDA and University of Hawaii including Danielle Downey and Ethel Villalobos. Karl Magnacca, the preeminent expert on the native Hawaiian Hylaeus bees will also be a featured speaker.

Villalobos, a researcher in the Insect Ecology and Integrated Pest Management Lab at UH Manoa, will offer a presentation on plants that can provide nectar and pollen for pollinators including honeybees. Some of the information for her talk is available at

Beyond bees, we need to start protecting and encouraging other pollinators such as birds, bats, butterflies, wasps, moths, flies and even a few beetles. One way to do this is to install plants that are known to attract them. According to the publication referred to above, many native Hawaiian plants such as akia, mamani, ohai, naupaka, loulu palm, hoawa, naio, kokio, mao, lama and wiliwili can provide habitat for our pollinators. Planting them and decreasing or eliminating pesticide use can go a long way toward encouraging and protecting pollinators.

Some of the goals of the short course include helping attendees identify pollinators and the best habitats for them, teaching ways to increase and enhance pollinator diversity and imparting an understanding of the best land management practices to reduce negative impacts on pollinators.

Ways to incorporate pollinator conservation into federal programs will also be discussed. NRCS can serve as a partner in pollinator conservation by providing a resource to help farmers create pollinator habitat and offer pollinator protection. Other resources to support these efforts will also be covered.

To register, contact Ashley Minnerath from the Xerces Society at or call 855-232-6639, ext. 102. The fee is $50 per person; $40 for members of Hawaii Organic Farmer Association.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.

Tropical gardening helpline

Email plant questions to for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Joachim asks: I’ve noticed that my coconut palms are producing smaller fruit this year than in years past. The trees look healthy. They have green leaves and appear to be thriving. Is there some disease or pest that could be causing this?

Answer: Many possible causes for small fruit production exist. Start with a soil test to see if your soil lacks an essential nutrient you might add or make available by adjusting the pH.

Garrett Webb from Kalaoa Gardens Palm Nursery suggested that you take a close look at the fruit. If it has a brown patch and long grooves in the husk you may have the coconut eriophyid mite, Arecia guerreronis, which can arrest fruit growth.

If you have this problem, request help in dealing with it via email to the Master Gardeners.

Check your coconuts carefully and if you don’t see the brown spots or grooves, you may want to augment your soil as a way to try to increase fruit size during the next season.

Most of the other diseases and pests of coconuts affect the tree and fronds and you would notice yellow leaves, sap on the trunk, crown die-back or other signs indicating a problem.

This column is produced by Diana Duff.

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