Red River Gorge, KY

Red River Gorge, KY

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pollinator Decline and Citizen Science - How Can I Help?

In BIO 1164: Biology and Human Concerns, we have been discussing the importance of conservation, and what one could do to help the environment given the dire condition of our planet's biodiversity. At times, I fear my students look at the state of the world and see no hope. What is a concerned, conscientious person to do? One option might be to become involved in a citizen science program!

During lab on Thursday, 2-Oct-14, my students participated in a pollinator count on campus at Transylvania University. TU is situated very close to downtown Lexington, KY. It seems imperative to understand how pollinators use any available resources in this urban setting. 

Transylvania University in Lexington KY. 
Though autumn is quickly approaching (low temperatures this weekend should approach the upper 30's!) goldenrod is still in bloom in the campus rain gardens. And, there are still pollinators out there!

A carpenter bee foraging on goldenrod
The students paired up, and took turns making pollinator visit counts on the goldenrod for five minutes at two spots on campus. One location was more centrally located and the flower garden was smaller, while the other was larger and on the edge of campus. I have two lab sections: one early, the other later in the morning. My students made predictions about whether they'd see more pollinator visits early or late, and in the middle of campus versus the edge. 

Then the pollinator visit counts began!

Above: Tim focuses on pollinator visits while Katie records data
Below: Joey and Teddy recorded their pollinator visits

As the students suspected, the late lab section saw greater pollinator activity than the morning group. Temperatures rose 17 degrees between the two lab sections. However, we anticipated greater activity on the edge of campus. Instead, we saw greater numbers of pollinators on the interior of campus. However, one thing we did not take into consideration was the composition of the pollinators across the two locations. In the campus interior, we saw greater numbers of small, solitary Halictid bees, whereas on the edge larger bodied bees such as honey bees and carpenter bees were dominant.

This was just one day of sampling, but as a pilot study it raises a number of questions. Which pollinators take advantage of the flowers on campus at Transylvania University throughout the year? How could the campus community more effectively use native flowers in our landscaping to benefit pollinators? Early next year, I hope to organize more pollinator counts on campus, in order to answer some of the questions raised by this short lab project.

If you would like to become involved in local pollinator counts, or would like to learn more about using native plants to enhance pollinators in your yard, there are lots of resources available for you! Check out the Xerces Society's bumblebee watch page, and take part in the search for bumblebees! The University of Kentucky has publications covering a range of topics  that might be of interest as well, such as landscaping with wildflowers, how to attract butterflies with native plants, and more. 

Finally, there is a smartphone app called iNaturalist which looks very interesting. This might be a great way to collaborate on a city-wide or regional pollinator study and share the results in real time. I plan to download and try this app out soon, and will post later about how it works!  

Knowledge, concern, and collaboration are key to effective conservation programs. Recently, there have been some indications that the hole in the ozone layer is beginning to shrink. This was a result of a massive, international collaborative effort to reduce CFC emissions. So long as concerned, knowledgeable people care about the environment, there is hope! 

Until next time!

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