Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rain garden is awash with flowers

The rain garden near the Packard entrance of Mary Beth Doyle Park is thriving. I counted seven species in bloom this morning:
  1. spiderwort
  2. bee balm
  3. mountain mint
  4. boneset
  5. evening primrose
  6. sneezeweed
  7. thimbleweed
The spiderwort and bee balm are nearly past, while boneset and thimbleweed are in early stages of their annual bloom.

A long season of bloom is desirable both for aesthetics and to support wildlife. Here's a bee on the boneset flowers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Volunteers Build Better Trails

A group of volunteers from Thomson-Reuters did an outstanding job re-routing the trail to Swift Run Park on April 24, 2009.

We'll have more details, and (hopefully) some photos soon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Michigan researchers find 166 bee species on 15 blueberry farms‏

A study published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America (March 2009) shows that wild bees are effective pollinators of food crops. (Farmers in Michigan raised more than 100 million pounds of blueberries in 2007. Each berry was pollinated by a bee.)

The article is available at

In the article "Wild Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of the Michigan Highbush Blueberry Agroecosystem," authors Julianna K. Tuell (Michigan State University), John S. Ascher (American Museum of Natural History), and Rufus Isaacs (Michigan State University) report the results of a three-year study which took place on 15 southwestern Michigan blueberry farms. Using traps and direct observation, the authors identified 166 bee species, 112 of which were active during the blueberry blooming period. Many of these species visit more flowers per minute and deposit more pollen per visit than honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), and most of them are potential blueberry pollinators.

"This should help growers know what kinds of bees are in the fields so that they can make informed decisions about whether they should modify crop management practices in order to help conserve natural populations of bees," said Dr. Julianna Tuell.

Unlike honey bees, which live together in hives, most of the bees found by the authors were solitary bees that nest in the soil or in wood cavities. While soil-nesting bees may be difficult to manage, the authors see potential for cavity-nesting bees, such as several species of mason bees, to be managed by growers who can support their populations by providing nesting materials.

"Untreated bamboo or reeds are good materials because they provide natural variation in hole diameter to attract the broadest range of species," said Dr. Tuell. "There are also a number of commercially manufactured options that growers can use, such as foam blocks with pre-drilled holes and cardboard tubes made to a particular diameter to suit a particular species of interest. Drilling different sized holes in wood is another option. If a grower is interested in trying to build up populations of a particular species, there are also details about how to do so available online."

Besides blueberries, many of the species in this study also visit cherries, apples, and cranberries, and managed mason bees are already being used to pollinate cherry orchards.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Honeybee video shows pollination up close

While my primary interest is in bees native to the Americas, a video of honeybees shows nectar and pollen collection in breathtaking close ups.

Bees: tales from the hive (This program gives close-up views of honeybees in action - on flowers and inside their hive. The action photography is unparalleled. If you have any interest in honeybees this is a must-see.

Footage of bees' flower visits, with nectar and pollen collection, are breathtaking. The efforts of other creatures to enter the hive, and the bees' response, are vividly shown. Additional coverage inside the hive includes egg-laying, larval growth, and rivalry among would-be queens. Views of a mating flight are pristine.

The narration is American, and the photography is German. The location is somewhere in Europe. This is hardly noticeable in the first few minutes. But when the bee swarm enters a village, and the streetcar comes to a stop, you'll know this is not North America. The woodland sequence is more subtly European.

Seeing this you'll understand why honeybees have fascinated humans for millennia.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Participatory science and computer mapping

The past two years have seen several web sites where volunteers can record observations about plants, migratory animals, etc.

The grandmother and best example of such sites from an educational viewpoint is Journey North. From February through June, weekly emails advise students and teachers about the migration progress of selected species. My favorite is monarch butterflies, but other prefer hummingbirds, robins, or other species. Unfortunately, their use of external sites to find lat lon is clunky.

Photo by C. B.

(Speaking of monarchs, the pioneer and paradigm for single species sites is Monarch Watch.)

There's a nice use of Google maps on Beespotter. When you enter a sighting (and upload a photo), part of the data entry process brings up a Google maps applet. Normally you would enter a street address. If you know your lat lon you can enter that to Google. (Since many people will make repeat observations at a few sites, it would be a logical to be able to keep a list of favorite locations.)

The Great Sunflower Project is actually a bee observation project. The assumption is you will grow sunflowers in a single site, so you register a single location by street address (lat lon is optional.) Then you may record multiple observations at that site.

Finally, a plant-focused phenology site. Project Budburst assumes you will register a small number of locations, and later report consolidated observations for each site. They require you to get lat lon from an external site.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Doug Tallamy in Michigan on March 8, 2009

Ecologist Doug Tallamy gave the keynote at the 22nd Michigan Wildflower Conference on March 8, 2009. It was exciting to hear him. His book is one of the most import books of the decade.

Here's an excerpt of a review by Nancy Cutbirth Small (with her permission):

Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens (Timber Press) ... focuses on using native plants to sustain the herbivorous insects that transfer the sun’s energy from plants to birds and other creatures. …

Chapter 12 “What Should I Plant?” is especially helpful, for it ranks and discusses the 20 genera of woody plants most valuable to Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Lepidopterans and their caterpillars form an important part of young birds’ diets. The number of species supported by each genus is amazing: Oaks, which head the list, support 517 species of moths and butterflies as well as walkingsticks and katydids, “hundreds of species of gall wasps,” bess beetles, and large stag beetle species. Hickories, though halfway down the list, nevertheless support 200 Lepidoptera species alone.

Tallamy illustrates his book with his own beautiful and dramatic photographs of insects--feeding, mating, protecting themselves, guarding their eggs or nymphs, being parasitized. The last major section of the book is devoted to a “portrait gallery” of herbivorous insects (and some of their arthropod predators), with short discussions of each. Strange, imposing, elegant, beautiful—and sometimes all of these—the insects shown here and elsewhere in the book help make the author’s passionate argument for saving these creatures on which so much depends.

Readers are certain to find Tallamy’s book revealing and inspiring.