Download our Celebrating Insects guide to learn about the importance of insects, their interesting and critical relationships with plants on the High Line, what our gardeners do, and what you can do at home to support these vital creatures, and more.
Plants and insects cover the globe—together they have shaped our world into what we know today and we rely on their lives and relationships to survive. Currently, they need our support more than ever.
Half a billion years ago, when life first emerged from the oceans and began to move onto land, plants were the trailblazers of transformation. Finding their way over millions of years dramatically altered the landscape and the atmosphere into the world that we know today—one that is ideal for an abundance and diversity of life.
The first flowers showed up around the time of the dinosaurs and the first bees are also found in the fossil record during this period. Today, the modern plant kingdom is dominated by flowering plants, most of which require insect-facilitated pollination, predominantly carried out by wild native bees.
Insects are vital contributors to every ecosystem, pollinating plants and cycling valuable nutrients back into the soil and new life by assisting in decomposition. They are a source of food that is foundational to global food webs. Birds alone gobble up hundreds of millions—as many as half a billion—insects annually. And the human diet is similarly impacted, with wild bees playing an outsized role in producing the foods we love most. One notable example is bumblebees, who use their flight muscles to vibrate their wings at a frequency that triggers the release of pollen in a process called “buzz pollination.” An explosion of pollen then rains down and sticks to their fuzzy bodies. Honey bees are incapable of this amazing trick, meaning they can’t pollinate tomatoes, blueberries, zucchini, potatoes, and so much more—these flowers need a bumblebee to do the job. Still other species of plants have evolved to be pollinated by a single kind of insect, specializing over centuries to build a unique and mutually beneficial relationship. Pollination and the co-evolution of flowers and bees are often overlooked but both are vitally important to understanding how to truly help all insects.
Yes, insects need our help. They are in serious danger. We’re seeing huge declines around the world in all insect types. Most insects alive today have been around for a very, very long time—surviving previous mass extinctions, global transformation, and climate fluctuations that have erased other animals from existence. Widespread habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, the advent of monoculture crops, and climate change are just some of the causes behind the current extinction of an estimated 40% of insect species in the last few decades. The transformation of the environment that has unfolded in modern times is taking place more rapidly than ever before.
Luckily, working to fix this problem is also working to fix many of the other problems we’re facing today. For example, here in the US we are beginning to set aside more substantial funding for pollinator research, and cities are planting pollinator-supportive gardens and other habitat restoration projects. These are solutions that help mitigate some of the threats of climate change and habitat loss too. So we still have a chance; we still have hope.
Our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren deserve to live in a world where fireflies invoke wonder and magic, where butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, wild bees, crickets, and the ephemeral mayfly have a place of honor among the other kingdoms of life.
TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.
Additional support for Horticulture on the High Line is provided by the Greenacre Foundation.
Celebrating Insects on the High Line is sponsored, in part, by Whole Foods Market.
Lead support for High Line Art comes from Amanda and Don Mullen. Major support is provided by Shelley Fox Aarons and Philip E. Aarons, The Brown Foundation, Inc., and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Program support is provided by Charlotte Feng Ford. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson.