What pollinators live in the city?

Have you ever wondered what kinds of pollinators like to visit urban gardens? My work this summer can help answer that question! My name is Maria Ostapovich, and I am currently a first year Master’s student at Tufts and a new member of TPI. Since the beginning of July, I have been surveying pollinators in gardens around Somerville, MA to understand 1) which pollinators occur in urban gardens and 2) which flowering plants those pollinators depend on. I surveyed pollinator-friendly gardens and ornamental gardens to see how they compared to one another.

Me surveying the ornamental garden in Powderhouse Square rotary. PC: Nick Dorian

Surprisingly, it was difficult to find public gardens (within walking distance) to survey during this project. The eight suitable gardens I found seemed like unlikely homes for pollinators: a busy bike path, a yard next to a construction site, and the middle of a rotary. But after my first survey, the opposite proved true. In the middle of the city, flowers everywhere were brimming with pollinating bees, wasps, hover flies, and butterflies.

Twice per week, I surveyed all eight gardens on foot. I made sure to pack plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes for my trek through Somerville and, by the end of each six-hour survey, I had invariably logged 10,000 steps. At each garden, I identified each flowering species of plant and counted the number of blooms. Then, I identified and counted the number of pollinator species that visited flowers, noting which species of plant they visited over 10 minutes.

First, I found that not all plants are equally attractive to pollinators. Commonly planted ornamental plants like day lilies and hostas did receive some insect visits, but native plants consistently outshone them. The white candelabras of culver’s root were particularly attractive to pollinators in June and July; cutleaf coneflower was a favorite of sweat bees and long-horned bees; and goldenrod stole the show in the fall. Native plants, clearly, were a favorite of pollinators in Somerville.

Bees love asters! Metallic green sweat bee (Agapostemon sp.), sweat bee (Halictus sp.), and the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on New England aster in a pollinator-friendly garden. PC: Maria Ostapovich

Overall, the insect diversity that I observed was incredible. I found insects ranging from fuzzy, clumsy bumblebees to indecisive, metallic green sweat bees. I observed cute little leaf-cutter bees holding their abdomens aloft and I saw formidable (yet harmless!) great black digger wasps. Among many other pollinators, I saw long-horned bees quickly zipping between flowers and several convincing bee-mimics including a hover fly (Spilomyia longicornis) that looks nearly identical to a European paper wasp. Surprisingly, I observed few butterflies during my surveys, perhaps a result of unfavorable conditions earlier in the year.

Male long-horned bee (Melissodes sp.) taking a break on a sunflower before zipping off. PC: Nick Dorian

I learned so much this summer, most notably how to identify urban plants and pollinators! For any tips for identifying pollinators on your own, check out TPI’s identification guides. While it was fun to learn how to identify so many species, it was even more exciting to see what kinds of plant-pollinator interactions took place across these gardens. Although the data analysis is still ongoing, I will be able to generate lists of plants that pollinators like and dislike as well as document the weeks of the year during which plants are flowering and pollinator species are most active. These findings will be coming soon after I complete my surveys (which are continuing until frost reaches Somerville) and after I learn the best way to analyze my data. Make sure to keep an eye out for additional blog posts sharing more of my findings!

To learn more about our ongoing efforts to document urban pollinator biodiversity, get in touch with us through social media or tuftspollinators@gmail.com!

Urban Boston Fall Pollinator BioBlitz!

This weekend, September 26-27, 2020, join TPI for a fall pollinator bioblitz! If you live in the city around Boston (east of I-95) get out during the weekend to observe pollinators—bees, butterflies, hover flies, wasps, and beetles—and post your sightings to iNaturalist. There will be so many insects to see, including monarch butterflies, bumble bees, paper wasps, goldenrod beetles, and more! If you’re not familiar with iNaturalist, see this guide for getting started.

During the bioblitz, TPI biologists will be scouring the flowers in our gardens on the Tufts University Medford-Somerville campus. We hope you’ll get out in your yard or neighborhood to look for pollinating insects, too. Your participation in this bioblitz will help TPI biologist better understand how gardens support pollinators in the city.

Never participated in a bioblitz before? Here are some tips to get you started:

Tufts University Medford-Somerville is now a Bee Campus USA!

TPI is excited to announce that we have reached our goal: Tufts University Medford-Somerville has become the first urban educational institution in Massachusetts to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program! Bee Campus USA is designed to marshal the strengths of educational campuses for the benefit of pollinators via the creation of pollinator habitat, service-learning projects, and educational programming.

Funded by the Tufts Green Fund in 2019, we created TPI as an ecological, educational, and collaborative effort to bolster pollinator health and promote community awareness on the Medford-Somerville campus. If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you may have heard that we have planted three pollinator-friendly gardens on the Medford-Somerville campus, which provide forage for pollinators from May through October. In just one year, we reached over 2,000 people via public-facing events such as Tufts Community Day, workshops, lectures, and the recent screening of The Pollinators. We have also advised pollinator conservation efforts at other universities in the Boston Area (e.g. Lesley University, Northeastern University) as well as other Tufts campuses. In this year’s round of Green Fund projects, the Sustainability Committee at the School of Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts was awarded funds to create pollinator-friendly gardens on their Boston campus. We cannot wait to help the SMFA Sustainability Committee create signage and select plants for their gardens!

TPI members with Peter Nelson, director of The Pollinators, following our Pollinator Fair (complete with honey tasting!) and film screening.
Nick Dorian teaches young community members about which crops are pollinated by bees at Tufts Community Day.

Elizabeth Crone, Professor of Biology and TPI member, is excited about the opportunities for student research and service-learning with the Medford-Somerville gardens: “In the same way that National Parks were a new idea in the early 1900’s, urban pollinator gardens are the next frontier for conserving insect diversity in the 21st century.” Our on-campus pollinator gardens have already been integrated into a Tufts undergraduate-level course, “Insect Pollinators and Real-world Science,” where students visited a garden and created their own pollinator-specific planting guides. We are now working to create undergraduate research projects to survey pollinator biodiversity and the food resources (nectar and pollen) the gardens provide, and recently created an iNaturalist Project for community scientists interested in contributing biodiversity data.

Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA are initiatives of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, with offices across the country. Bee City USA’s mission is to galvanize communities and campuses to sustain pollinators by providing them with healthy habitat, rich in a variety of native plants, i.e. food resources for pollinators. Animal pollinators such as bumble bees, sweat bees, mason bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds and many others are responsible for the reproduction of almost ninety percent of the world’s flowering plant species. In fact, one in every three bites of food we consume is thanks to animal pollinators, specifically insects!

“The program aspires to make people more PC—pollinator conscious, that is,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces’ executive director. “If lots of individuals and communities begin planting native, pesticide-free flowering trees, shrubs and perennials, it will help to sustain many, many species of pollinators.”

We would like to thank to the Tufts Green Fund for funding this project, the Garden Club of America for their support, and our current and past members for helping us toward our goal! As a certified Bee Campus USA, we will continue doing outreach, education, and research, and spreading the pollinator love!

TPI supports pollinators by cultivating native plants on the Medford-Somerville campus. Here, a monarch collects nectar from blazing star.