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For Pollinator Week: Looking at the Science Behind Gardening for Pollinators

Did you know that National Pollinator Week is coming up June 16-22, 2014?

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To get prepared for Pollinator Week, let’s take a look at gardening as a way to encourage local pollinators.

How would you go about it? If you have the typical vast expanse of grass, one step could be to carve out areas from that lawn and start adding beds and borders of a diversity of flowering plants. Over time, you could continue to expand the beds until you reach the point where you can recycle the lawnmower.

Choosing which plants to include in a pollinator garden may be complicated. The best solution is to grow plants that originated in a given area or native plants.

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There are regional plant lists available, but using only native plants is not always possible. These specialized plants may not be available in local nurseries, larger natives may require more space than is available, or there may be local restrictions on landscape appearance that prohibit use of plants that look “messy.”

An alternative is to grow common landscape plants. The question then becomes which ones will suit your local pollinators.

In a recent paper in the journal Functional Ecology, Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L. W. Ratnieks quantified how attractive common landscape plants were to bees and other flying insects in a scientific way. They carried out their studies in Great Britain, but give good suggestions that could be used anywhere. For example, geraniums (flowers of the genus Pelargonium) are not a good choice for a pollinator garden no matter where you live because the flowers produce no nectar.

In this video Dr. Ratnieks explains their techniques and some of their findings:

Did you notice how many of the preferred plants were common herbs? Planting an herb garden would give a double benefit, being useful to your cooking and to pollinators.

The take home message is that spending some time getting to know the habits of your local pollinators before you plant your garden can go a long way towards helping them survive in the future.

What do you think? Are quick observations sufficient to make generalizations about pollinators or should there be more rigorous studies like this one by Garbuzov and Ratnieks?

Reference:

Garbuzov, M., Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2014), Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other flower-visiting insects. Functional Ecology, 28: 364–374.

Wordless Wednesday: Bee Sticking Its Tongue Out

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New TED Talk by Deborah Gordon

Have you seen ant researcher Deborah Gordon’s newest TED talk?

She mentions the Ants in Space project, as well as results from her 28 years studying a group of harvester ants in the Southwest.

Dr. Gordon proposes some interesting connections between what we can learn from ants and other fields of research. What do you think?

Solenopsis xyloni Stores Spurge Seeds

Last week I flipped over a rock about six inches square and found this:

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Okay, it doesn’t look like much until you zoom in closer.

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The grayish-mound is a solid mat of oval, wrinkly seeds. Apparently they had been gathered and stored by the Southern fire ants (Solenopsis xyloni) you see running around. The ants were in full defensive mode.

The seeds were both on the ground and on the underside of the rock, so there was quite a mass of them.

 

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Seeing the seeds reminded me of an earlier time (above photograph) I had found a similar cache of seeds under a rock . At the time I didn’t know what plant they were from, but now I have figured it out.

These seeds are from a type of ground spurge, Chamaesyce prostrata. Another common name is sandmat. (See post about Southern fire ants and sandmat).

The University of Arizona has an illustration of the plant in their older weed manual under the name Groundfig Spurge, Euphorbia prostrata. See the seed labeled “d” in the illustration?

A quick search of the internet revealed the UC IPM website states “Weed seeds, particularly spurge, may attract the ants away from the bait…” This statement is referring to Southern fire ants in almond groves.

Seems like there might be something worth investigating going on here.

Have you ever seen Southern fire ants with seed caches? What kinds of seeds did you find in them?