Pollinator Series: Planning your garden based on your monitoring results (5)

Pollinator Series: Planning your garden based on your monitoring results (5)

By Fiona Smeaton

I hope that you all enjoyed monitoring the bees in your backyard! This will be the last blog of this mini-series on pollinators (see my previous posts here, here, and here, and here). For this week, I want to cover what you can do with these results and how that can shape decisions you make in your garden. In order to really understand what is going on in your garden it is best to repeat this monitoring activity a few more times. Try to monitor at slightly different times in the day, try to observe more closely on flowers you quickly skimmed over the time before. It is also good to monitor throughout the season. This protocol is useful to follow from April through September. Creating a pool of data will give you a better representation of what is going on in your garden.

There are different ways to execute this protocol and formal practice would involve setting a linear transect and walking the length of it, noting the plants as they appear on the transect. However, since we are just practicing in our gardens this order is less important. I want to include a template here for you to create your own pollinator network from the data you collected in your backyard. To show you how this network functions, I will refer again to my master’s research. If you recall, I mentioned how I monitored urban sites across Portland in order to inform land managers which insect pollinators were present and which floral resources they were utilizing. Once I collected this data, I wanted to show these land managers which flowers had been the most popular. Here are the results of the top five most visited plants across all sites in the summer of 2019.

On the left side of this network you can see all of the morphogroups I observed in the field (note I did not have any confirmed sightings of the cuckoo bee). The arrows leading from the morphogroup to the plant species on the right shows how they visited each flower. The thickness of the arrow relates to the individuals within each morphogroup that were observed. The box on the right side next to the plant species represents how common the plant was on the transect I was monitoring. For example, you can see that number 14, Canada thistle, was visited by honeybees frequently, most likely because it was more frequent at the sites I was monitoring. Anything you see in red represents a species or morphogroup that is not native to Oregon. Anything in black is a native species to this region.

One big takeaway I had from this project is that many of these native pollinators are benefiting from floral species that we would consider a nuisance or a weedy species. While we do not want to promote these weed species since they can be very aggressive and takeover a garden it is still important to note that insect pollinators are visiting these species. This will cause us to be more mindful about how we remove these plants and what we replace them with.

For your own pollinator network, you can either draw in arrows or add them digitally for all of the monitoring data you collected. Take note of which plant species had the most observations and which had the most different morphogroups. This template only has the bee morphogroups, but it is important to also note the butterflies, flies and wasps that were also visiting your garden.    

Abundance vs Richness in order to promote biodiversity

I want to go over a few terms for you to evaluate the data you collected. Abundance of an insect pollinator describes the number of individuals visiting a flower within a particular species or morphogroup. Richness describes the number of different species or morphogroups seen visiting a flower regardless of the number of individuals. Biodiversity describes the combination of these two terms, meaning the number of individuals visiting a flower and the number of different species or morphogroups. This is important to note because you want to evaluate which flowers are attracting the most abundance of insect pollinators, but also which flowers are promoting multiple morphogroups.

As we talked about in the first post of this blog mini-series, there is an incredible diversity of insect pollinators in Oregon. Working to save these valuable species will benefit humans greatly by ensuring we still have the ecosystem services they provide, and it will also guarantee they can provide their vital keystone role in natural habitats.

I hope that you have enjoyed this mini-series on pollinators and have learned to appreciate these incredible little creatures that provide so much for us and our wildlife.

About Fiona:

I have always been passionate about connections between species in the natural world, I love to learn about organisms that have coevolved and formed mutually beneficial relationships. That is what first drew my attention to insect pollinators. I think that it is fascinating that these tiny creatures can play such a keystone role in an ecosystem. There would not be the incredible diversity of plants we know today without these insects. However, pollinators are currently facing a multitude of threats caused by humans' destructive practices on the modern landscape. Urban environments, while very disturbed and fragmented can provide valuable habitat for native pollinators. My Master’s program allowed me to investigate eight urban sites across Portland OR to find out which insect pollinators were observed in the summer of 2019 and which flowers they were visiting. My work was directed at urban land managers in Portland in order to help them strategize ways to create pollinator habitat around us. Now I want to share this information with the Cornell Farm community! This blog mini-series is meant to share my experiences monitoring insect pollinators and strategies I have learned in order to better understand how we can support these incredible species within our city.