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Insect Pollinators Need More Habitat


| Feb 27, 2015

Photo: Emily Dobbs, a University of Kentucky graduate student in entomology, evaluates a planting of perennial wildflowers located at University of Kentucky's AJ Powell Turf Research Facility that attract bees and butterflies seeking pollen and nectar. The USGA, along with Syngenta and the University of Kentucky Nursery Endowment Fund, are supporting the first use of a program called Operation Pollinator on North American golf courses. 

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that said, “The number of honey bee colonies declined by 31% last winter.” This amounts to a loss of about 800,000 colonies, the latest reported toll of mass die-offs. Worldwide, bee and butterfly numbers have dropped dramatically, whether by climate change or habitat loss. So, what does this have to do with golf courses?

In years past, the USGA cooperated with the Xerces Society on studies to help golf courses provide needed habit for a host of insect pollinators in out-of-play areas. Recently, the USGA, along with Syngenta and the University of Kentucky Nursery Endowment Fund, are supporting the first use of a program called Operation Pollinator on North American golf courses. "Bees are really critical for food supply," said Daniel Potter, professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky (UK). Hence, there is an urgent need to cultivate spaces that are friendly to bees and butterflies. Emily Dobbs, a UK graduate student in entomology, began the project in 2011 to produce mixes of wildflowers that would attract bees and butterflies. Then, she planted them on six Lexington golf courses.

"You can't just go out in a field and start throwing seeds around," Potter said. The plots are 20 feet by 200 feet for each of the golf courses. Of the three seed mixes developed, Dobbs said one is for butterflies, two are for bees, and one is a fallow plot that serves as a control. Consisting of perennial plants, the seed mix is designed to provide visual interest for all seasons. "There's an opportunity to create a sanctuary here," Dobbs explained. She is using different techniques to measure success, including the number of blooms, "bee bowl" trapping in bright plastic bowls with soapy water, and butterfly nets.

Initiated by the Syngenta Company, Operation Pollinator projects began in Great Britain. The idea is to provide scattered plantings for bees and butterflies to gather pollen and nectar. For North America, “The possibilities for other pollinator gardens are nearly endless — on horse farms, school grounds, private homes, and even neighborhood parkland,” Dobbs said. For now, Potter suggested, "The golf course can become an urban sanctuary."


Truman, Cheryl. "UK Student Plants Golf Course Gardens to Increase Bee, Butterfly Populations." (30 Apr. 2013): n. pag.The Lexington Herald-Leader. Web. 09 May 2013.


Shepherd, Matthew. 2002. Making Room for Native Pollinators: How to Create Habitat for Pollinator Insects on Golf Courses. Far Hill, New Jersey: United States Golf Association; and Portland, Oregon: Xerces Society. 30 pp.


Shepherd, Matthew; Vaughan, Mace; Black, Scott Hoffman. 2006.MAKING MORE ROOM A Companion to Making Room for Native Pollinators: Oregon’s Butterflies, Local Plants, and Extra Resources. Portland, Oregon: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 48 pp.


Tomson, Bill; and Tracy, Ryan. “Bee Deaths Put Crops at Risk – Mounting Toll on Pollinating Insects Imperils Over $20 Billion a Year in Harvests.”The Wall Street JournalCCLXI (8 May 2013):A3. Web. 09 May 2013.