Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Power of Pollinators

In honor of National Pollinator Week last week, Nature Net is here for your pollination education!  

Pollination occurs when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is transferred to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). This fertilizes the plant and leads to the production of fruits and seeds!

Pollinators play an essential role in flowering plant and gymnosperm reproduction, as only about 20% of plants are pollinated without the assistance of animals -- and one out of every three bites of food is pollinated by pollinators! Without these hard-working critters, we would be without many fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we enjoy on a daily basis.  

Pollinators can be found just about everywhere during the summer months! The majority of pollinators in Wisconsin are flying insects, including bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Hummingbirds and bats are other very important pollinators in the state.

This is what your grocery store would look like
without bees!
From: Whole Foods Market and Xerces Society
Bees are the most important local pollinators for most native     plant species.  Bees pollinate more than 100 types of crops in the US (and 2/3 the world’s crop species), including many favorites, like berries, peppers, melons, and avocados. There are over 400 native bee species that play a crucial role in pollinating Wisconsin’s food crops. Bumble bees are more effective than honey bees at pollinating highly-valued crops, because they fly at cooler temperatures, damper conditions and lower light levels, which can extend pollination by several hours daily. Bees have been disappearing in huge numbers in recent years due to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, of which scientists are just beginning to understand the cause.

Hummingbirds are another very interesting and important species. Along with being incredibly fun to observe -- they beat their wings as much as 80 times per second! -- they are also important pollinators. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only common species in the Midwest.  It is easily attracted to feeders, and quickly accustomed to human presence, so it’s very easy to entice these birds to come to your yard!

Bats are also incredibly important pollinators and seed dispersers in Wisconsin. Additionally, they are important predators of biting insects, and may be extremely important in reducing insect-borne diseases, such as the West –Nile virus, which is becoming more and more prevalent in Wisconsin.

Butterflies and moths are other very important local pollinators. Some important Wisconsin butterfly and moth species include the Viceroy, Meadow Fritillary, American Snout, Black Swallowtail, Monarch and Hummingbird Moth.

These pollinators all play an incredibly important role in maintaining biological diversity in ecosystems and food chains throughout Wisconsin. Humans and wildlife both depend on these pollinators as a food source. Unfortunately, some of these important pollinators are declining due to pesticide use, habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change and disease. However, there are many things you and your family can do to help these local pollinators continue helping you!

What you can do to help your local pollinators:

Without pollinators, we would be without so many of the things we enjoy on a daily basis. So the next time you eat an apple or have your morning cup of coffee, think of who (or what) made it possible, and thank a pollinator near you! 

If you're interested in learning more about bees, be sure to check out the UW Arboretum's event on July 19th called Bumble Bees and Pollination!  For more information, click here.

Happy Strawberry Season!
Lauren, Communications Intern

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monarch Madness

The arrival of the Monarch butterfly is an exciting phenological event that is a sure sign of summer in Wisconsin. They can be found throughout the state beginning in early May when they migrate north from Mexico and Southern California, and until the last butterflies leave in October, migrating south again for the winter. Unfortunately, this beautiful migrating species, and the migratory phenomena that they rely on are in danger. 
Monarch butterfly, Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Monarch butterflies have an important migration process that spans four generations annually. The first generation migrates north in the spring and breeds there. This generation goes through the same life cycle as the following two summer generations, which lasts 6-8 weeks. This cycle consists of egg, caterpillar, chrysalis (also called cocoon or pupa), and adult butterfly. The adult butterfly then breeds and creates the new generation. As the summer comes to an end in late August, and the fourth generation becomes an adult butterfly, migration plays a key role. Unlike its parents and grandparents, this generation does not breed and die soon after it becomes an adult butterfly. They cannot adapt to the colder temperatures and lack of moisture of northern autumn, so instead of staying in the north and laying eggs, they put their energy into migrating south, up to 2,500 miles away. There, they live for six to eight months in Mexico or Southern California, where they enter a deep sleep called torpor, which is a very long, still sleeping state similar to hibernation. When spring arrives, they breed and create the new first generation. 
The Monarch Butterfly Annual Cycle from Journey North

This span of generations and annual life cycles could not exist without
migration. However, the number of migrating monarchs has been plummeting for the last few years. There are many reasons for this decline in monarch migration. One reason is that monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When the young caterpillars hatch, they rely on milkweed for food.  However, there has been a widespread loss of milkweed, due to deforestation, development, and farming. Global climate change has also had a significant effect on the migration patterns of monarchs, due to climate fluctuations such as extreme temperatures and precipitation events and changes in seasonal cycles.

In addition to being esthetically pleasing, monarchs are also important plant
pollinators. Therefore, they play extremely important roles in many ecosystems. They even pollinate some crops that humans rely on, such as corn. So what can you do to help stop the decline of migratory monarch butterflies and help this important and beautiful species?

As a child, I used to observe monarch butterflies undergo metamorphosis every summer. Being able to witness this natural phenomenon was a great learning experience for me, and it’s a wonderful way to teach your children about insect life cycles and the wonder of nature. It just wouldn’t be summer in Wisconsin without these beautiful butterflies!  Hopefully, with the collective efforts of citizens in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, these populations will be able to recover, so we can enjoy this unique and beautiful species for generations to come. 

Happy Summer!
Lauren, Communications Intern