Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sentinels on the Wing: the Status and Conservation of Butterflies in Canada.

That's the title of a talk by Peter Hall, Research Associate at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Ottawa, and co-author of The Butterflies of Canada. It will be presented on Saturday, November 19, 1:15 p.m. Room 110, Ramsay Wright Zoological Laboratories ( St. George Campus, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto) with a reception to follow. Following the recent publication of Butterflies of Toronto, this is a great opportunity for Muddy York fans of some of our most beautiful pollinators to hear up to date information. Open to the Public.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

You need an artist to bring the science back to the way we live, to a human scale.

That's a quote from artist David Buckland, founder of Cape Farewell, a group promoting a cultural response to climate change. Long based in England, Cape Farewell is opening its North American office in Toronto with a benefit concert on Thursday November 10.

Mormon Fritillary & Showy Fleabane - David Inouye 2009
hummingbird and alpine delphinium - D. Inouye
flies pollinate alpine flax - David Inouye 2009
Why am I noting Cape Farewell's efforts in a blog on pollinator gardens? Well, pollinators depend on flowers and flowering dates are changing because of climate change. At the recent North American Pollinator Protection Campaign meeting in Washington DC, I heard a short presentation on this issue by scientist David Inouye. He has been tracking wildflowers and their pollinators for 40 years in the Colorado Rockies. There are many different stories of individual pollinator-plant interactions, but one example given by Inouye in a 2009 talk deals with the flower Erigeron speciosus and the Mormon Fritillary butterfly Speyeria mormonia. The butterfly is an alpine species and depends on alpine wildflowers. Inouye  and Carol Boggs of Stanford University have shown that earlier snowmelt in the Rockies is reducing butterflies, because flower buds are emerging earlier when frosts are still a high risk. As a result there are fewer flowers. Inouye has shown this trend for several early-blooming alpine flowers whose populations are declining. The pictures shown here (all from the 2009 talk) illustrate some of the flowers and pollinators.

Simon Potts et al. 2009

These unexpected interactions aren't confined to the mountains.This chart from a research report by Simon Potts and colleagues shows how blooming time of blackcurrants in England (green circles) used to coincide with emergence dates of a key pollinator (red triangles) in the 1970's. Now the flowers bloom almost a month earlier than the bees emerge, reducing fruit set.

So, going back to Cape Farewell - climate change and pollinators turn out to have interesting and non-obvious overlaps. Explaining these to the public takes time, patience, and a gift for presentation that artists and media people have more than most scientists. That's why we as people interested in pollinators and their plants should be learning from Cape Farewell's example.

In another blog to be posted soon, I'll be asking you the readers about celebrities and pollinators.

- Clement Kent

p.s. find out more about Cape Farewell and the Horticultural Society Vegetable Garden tour in this post

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Protecting Pollinators by Improving Water Quality? Read on..

Prof. M. Isabel Ramirez, 2011 Pollinator Advocate
Prof. Isabel Ramirez is the Mexico Pollinator Advocate for 2011. She is doing an ambitious project in the Morelia district of Mexico to help local people reforest their land. She's providing them with cheap tools to measure water quality and calibrating the tools with her own measurements. Why? Water quality is a "first victim" of deforestation and leads to increased illness in village children. If local people see that reforestation is making their children healthier, they have extra reasons to preserve the trees. Why is she a Pollinator Advocate? Guess who overwinters in forests in the Morelia district? If you guessed 3/4 of North America's monarch butterflies, you are golden! [Caveat: post based on my conversations with Prof. Ramirez; any mistakes my own]
Although I enjoyed meeting many people at the 2011 NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign) meeting in Washington last week, it was a particular pleasure to meet the Mexican participants. Although the NAPPC is a 3 nation effort, the resources available to US participants typically dwarf those in the "also ran" nations of Mexico and Canada. So, it is very interesting to meet people from the "fringe" and understand how they are making progress on these critical issues.
I found Prof. Ramirez's approach, which takes into account many issues of everyday life for people living in Morelia, a very interesting model. In addition to the water quality issue, she is trying to build ownership of the forest resources by the local people. This makes them less likely to participate in clear-cuts (most of them illegal) perpetrated by outsiders who offer the local people a pittance to cut down their natural inheritance. There are many echos of land management issues in Native Canadian areas for the thoughtful to consider here.
Clement Kent (Canada) and Isabel Ramirez (Mexico)
 That's why I felt particularly honoured to be a NAPPC Pollinator Advocate: because of the company in which I found myself.
- Clement Kent, Pollinator Gardens Project of the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto