Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pollinator Festival - 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Couple of Pollinator Surprises

Did you know that common garden Chives, with the green leaves that make such a savory addition to salads, soups and other dishes, is also a native North American plant?  I didn't.

Did you know that the common Greenbottle Fly, normally thought of as a pest species, can also be a great pollinator? I didn't.

Hey, live and learn right? Even if sometimes it takes decades.

The flowers of Chives are very attractive to pollinators, and I have seen numerous bees visiting them. Today's photo, however, is of a Greenbottle Fly.

Some flies are known as good pollinators, especially the hover flies. But in the last couple of years I have noticed lots of higher flies (muscids, tachinids, calliphorids) visiting blossoms as well.

The Greenbottle lays its eggs on carrion, and it is a very common species in cities. The adults also seem to visit flowers frequently, probably foraging on nectar as an energy source. These flies are often thought of as pests in cities, because their presence suggests poor food handling and because the adults may spread bacteria.

One recent study, however, found that higher flies (apart from Hover Flies) were among the most important pollinators of some plants, based on the total number of flower visits observed.

Now it doesn't look like Greenbottles are going to disappear from our cities any time soon. So let's just be glad that they also enjoy pollinating our garden plants.

[Photo by D. Barr]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pollinator Monitoring Handbook now Available for Apple iPad/iPhone

This ebook, which assists volunteers to become citizen scientists, is now available in the Apple iBook Store for $2.99.

 To buy it, first download the iBooks app from the iTunes app store. Then use iBooks to search the iBooks Store for 'pollinator monitoring'

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A White-tailed Bumblebee in Canada

White-tailed Bumblebee from Europe

In Europe, the White-tailed Bumblebee is a common and well-known species. It nests underground, usually in old mammal burrows. Its range also extends across much of northern Asia.

But Canada has a white-tailed bumblebee too, and it is not the European/Asian species.

The new-world bumblebee with a white tail is found in British Columbia and southern Alberta (as well as NWT, Nunavut, the Yukon and Alaska), and it has apparently not been given a common name. So we could call it the Canadian White-tailed Bumblebee. But because that might make the story too confusing, let's refer to it as the Moderate Bumblebee. Its Latin name, after all, is Bombus moderatus.

Robin Owen, a bumblebee biologist, has recently written about the discovery and ultimate identification of this white tail (HERE).

The Moderate Bumblebee was first described as a new species in 1863. But in subsequent years some entomologists noticed how similar it was to the European White-tailed. In 1991, a bumblebee specialist decided that the Moderate was really no more than a local variant of the White-tailed Bumblebee. So the Canadian populations no longer had a distinct name. They were just more White-taileds.

Owen describes how through his own work and that of others, this situation has now been reversed. Biochemical genetic studies have shown sufficient differences between the white-tailed bumblebees in western Canada and those in Europe, that each deserves to be recognized as a distinct species.

Not only is the Moderate Bumblebee once again seen to be worthy of its own name, it has also in recent years expanded its range in southern Alberta. This is a welcome trend, especially at a time when other bumblebees are disappearing.

[Latin Names: Bombus lucorum, the White-tailed Bumblebee; Bombus moderatus, the Moderate (or Canadian White-tailed) Bumblebee]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Pollinator Monitoring - Citizen Science Project

Spring Beauty - Claytonia virginica

Two labs are co-operating on a project to learn more about the relationship between Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana, and their pollinators.

Biologists in the James Thompson lab at the University of Toronto and the Neal Williams lab at the University of California at Davis are hoping to learn how pollinator communities change depending on the year, the location, and the season.

The two Spring Beauty species are both native woodland wildflowers, characteristic of rich forests and moist wooded slopes in eastern North America. They are Spring ephemeral species, for they bloom for only a few weeks before the forest canopy leafs out.

Pollinators for Claytonia include a variety of bees and flies. Of special interest is the native bee,Andrena erigeniae, for it is a pollen specialist, a bee that forages only on Claytonia. A species like this is especially vulnerable, for its fate is tied to the success of a single host plan.

In addition to their own work, the biologists are calling upon an army of citizen scientist volunteers to supplement the study with observations made across a wide geographic range during a very short period in time.

You can learn more and even volunteer to help with the project by visiting the project website: Spring Beauty and the Bees.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Incidental Pollinator - The Great Golden Digger Wasp

This large, brightly-colored wasp is a frequent flower visitor and so is a potential pollinator. It is shown here gathering nectar on Virginia Mountain-mint, a native wildflower in eastern North America.

Solitary females dig burrows to lay their eggs and provision them with katydids, grasshoppers and crickets as food for their larvae. The adult wasps look ferocious but never seem to sting.

This species was unknown in southern Ontario 50 years ago, but has spread here from its range in nearby northern Illinois and Michigan.

[Photo (c) D. Barr]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pollinator Monitoring for Citizen Scientists: A Handbook

Pollinating insects, like bumblebees, are in crisis. Honey bees are dying in unprecedented numbers and native pollinator species are disappearing. Pollinators are a critical element in the reproduction and fruiting of most flowering plants.

This threat to pollinators means that a substantial portion of the world's food supply is also in danger. Scientific knowledge will have to be applied to solving these problems. But we don't have enough biologists to deal with an issue of global proportions.

The efforts of citizen scientists will be required to complement the work of professional biologists if we are to find timely solutions. This handbook provides an illustrated guide that citizen scientists can use to monitor the activities of pollinating insects and gather data of use to pollination biologists. In addition to providing a protocol for making observations, the book also assists with the identification of both pollinators and the flowers they visit.

"This could be a very good piece of the puzzle encouraging more people to learn about pollinators." ~Bob Wildfong, Executive Director of Pollination Canada

Buy the handbook in eBook format for most eBook readers, including Kindle, HERE. Only $2.99.


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