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Monday, July 24, 2017

Pollinator Habitat: Does One Small Garden Matter?

Mother Nature's Backyard provides pollinator and bird habitat.

Summer is our peak insect season in Southern California.  And 2017 is a fantastic year for garden insects!  The winter rains have helped a number of species – from butterflies to tiny flower flies – bounce back.  We hope you’re taking the time to enjoy them.
Habitat gardening is gaining popularity throughout the world.  As green space disappears, more gardeners are choosing plants for their habitat value. In doing so, we take it on faith that if we plant the right plants, the insects and other creatures will come.  But how much difference can one small garden really make?  
That’s just the kind of question that biologists like to ask – and try to answer.  To that end, the UC Berkeley Bee Lab (http://www.helpabee.org/) is monitoring bees in gardens throughout the state.  In S. California, they currently have sites in Camarillo, La Canada/Flintridge, Palm Springs and Riverside. We look forward to seeing the results of their monitoring efforts in these gardens.

Several species of native Buckwheats attract summer insects.
Unfortunately, the Berkeley Bee Lab has no sites yet in western Los Angeles County.  That’s a shame – there are many interesting pollinators in our local gardens.  Are the insects different from those of other areas?  Are there (as yet) undiscovered pollinator species in western L.A. County?  What locally native plants are important for the specialist pollinators?  What pollinator species can a small, typical suburban garden support?   All of these are questions begging for answers.

Jesus Cepeda, Cal Poly Pomona, examines trap.

And that’s why Mother Nature’s Backyard is currently participating in a study designed to  answer some of those questions – at least for the bees.  Jesus Cepeda, a Master’s Degree Candidate at Cal Poly Pomona, is conducting a study of bee pollinators in six native plant gardens in Los Angeles County.  Most are home gardens; but one is Mother Nature’s Backyard.

Cepeda is a bee biologist.  He wants to know whether native plant gardens attract the same types of native bees as are found in natural areas. He’s also interested in questions of seasonality, floral density and floral species relationships.  And so, about every six weeks, he visits each garden to see what’s flying.
Collection in Mother Nature's Backyard
Cepeda uses several collection methods.  He utilizes pan traps (small plastic bowls filled with soapy water) to collect the smaller species.  These are yellow, blue, white and red; he leaves them in place for 24 to 48 hours.  He also uses a net to capture some of the larger species.    He takes them back to the lab, preserves them and determines what species they are.   His results will ultimately be analyzed and published.

We eagerly await the results of Cepeda’s study (we’ll update you when we know more).  Until then, we continue to observe and photograph the insects in our gardens.  Some photos are not so great, but others are detailed enough to classify to the genus or even species level.  We’ve also managed to document some interesting pollinator behavior in our gardens.   All of this just makes us more curious about the creatures with whom we share our gardens.

Cepeda surveys a sunny, July garden
So, does one small garden matter?  The jury is still out, but the hints are promising.  Bigger is better, certainly, but even small gardens are likely to provide important habitat. We suspect that interesting answers – specific to our area - will emerge in the next few years.  The data will help us spread the news about the importance of habitat gardening.  Someday, entire local neighborhoods may provide crucial pollinator habitat.  That’s an exciting thought!

In the meantime, you can help the effort by photographing your garden insects and uploading them to iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/home).  It’s fun and easy – you may even learn the names of the insects.  And you’ll be doing something no one else can: documenting the insects in your garden for science and for posterity.

Want to learn more about habitat gardening?  See:

We encourage your comments below.   If you have questions about Duskywing butterflies or other gardening topics you can e-mail us at :  mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. I feel in my bones that even small gardens matter. Looking forward to seeing the results.