The New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) has released its comprehensive Empire State Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS), which includes field research data from students and faculty within SUNY Cobleskill’s Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Sciences department. This project was a four-year, statewide effort to determine the current distribution and conservation status of a wide array of native insect pollinators in nonagricultural habitats.
Native pollinators include wild bees, flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies, all of which play an essential role in pollinating flowering plants, including native plants and wildflowers, garden plants, as well as cultivated crops. Some native pollinator species have suffered population declines over the last few decades. In response, New York State in 2015 created the Pollinator Task Force to recommend management practices, education, and research and monitor strategies to conserve wild and managed pollinator populations.
The Task Force’s resulting Pollinator Protection Plan led to the formation of the ESNPS. The New York Natural Heritage Program was funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the Environmental Protection Fund to develop and implement the study.
As part of data collection efforts for the ESNPS, zoologists with the NYNHP conducted surveys statewide following a study design and sampling protocol for each target group identified by an advisory committee of experts convened during the project’s planning phase. The survey had a citizen science component that involved training volunteers who used iNaturalist to record locations and photographs of pollinators observed around the state.
SUNY Cobleskill was responsible for the Saproxylic hover fly portion of the survey. The team targeted old growth forest locations to find these rare species, primarily in the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and Alleghany mountains. Led by Dr. Carmen Greenwood, associate professor and member of the ESNPS advisory committee, students contributing to this survey from SUNY Cobleskill were Allie Eastman, Gloria Keal, Zachary Jacobson, Jayson Maxwell, John Pipino, and Liam Somers. Somers has since graduated and taken a position in the forest health diagnostics lab with the NYSDEC. Instructional Support Assistants Jess Furlong and Eric Struening also assisted students in all aspects of the project.
“The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey, as designed by the New York Natural Heritage Program, is truly an outstanding model that should serve as an example for other states as they assess the status of their pollinators,” said Dr. Greenwood. “I was very grateful that they chose to include saproxylic hover flies in this assessment as they represent a unique natural resource that is limited and fragmented where it exists. The fact that so many of these species are potentially imperiled or too sparse to make a determination of their status supports the critical importance of assessing these animals and continuing to assess their status into the future.”
Through the efforts of all involved in this survey, the NYNHP verified over 34,000 individual specimen records for species-level identification. The survey identified 22 species of beetles and nine species of moths, for which the state has had no record of since 2000. The New York Natural Heritage Program was able to assign conservation status ranks to 457 species of beetles, flies, bees, and moths. Up to 60 percent of these species may be at risk in New York.