Sunday, July 30, 2017

How the McMaster Prairie Project is Influencing Bee Biodiversity

Another great piece by our summer intern, Saige Patti!

Native bumble bees pollinate using a unique method called "buzz pollination."

For fifty years, a 149 acre McMaster property sat on Lions Club road with a faded fence and invasive buckthorn so thick that you couldn’t see through it. Now, it’s flourishing with biodiversity.

The change began 2014, when the McMaster Biology department removed the buckthorn, conducted a controlled burn, and reseeded the property with 40 native species to create a tallgrass prairie. This is a type of Carolinian habitat with a stable community of grasses and wildflowers such as blazing star and bergamot. Carolinian prairies support a wide variety of wildlife, including bobolinks, deer, voles, and butterflies.

Sebastian Irazuzta is a 3rd year PhD student at McMaster looking at how bees recolonize native habitats. He is comparing changing bee populations between the McMaster prairie and a similar remnant prairie habitat, located on Hamilton Conservation Authority property on Jerseyville Road. Irazuzta says that most research that has been done on this topic has been done in a controlled laboratory setting with fewer species.

After surveying the McMaster property from 2014 to 2016, they’ve found close to 180 species of bees. “For all of Ontario we know that there are around 410 species. For this area on the Niagara escarpment, the only other sizeable research that has been done has been around Brock University… they found around 132 species.” Irazuzta tells us.

Bee specimens from Irazuzta's collection show that native bees vary a lot in size.
There is great value in biodiverse bee populations. This is because different bees have different strategies for collecting pollen. While some bees stick pollen to their abdomen, others stick it to the hairs on their legs. Some even eat the pollen and regurgitate it later. When a flower receives visits from different types of bees, they access pollen from different areas of the flower.

Laboratory research has shown that enhanced seed production is not only determined by frequency of visits, but by diversity of pollinators.

Certain pollinators are most efficient at pollinating certain flowers, because they use unique methods. For example, bumblebees use ‘buzz pollination’. They vibrate the flower so that pollen comes off more easily and sticks to the bee. High bee diversity means plants produce more high-quality seeds. This is important for crops since more seeds means more food production.
Bees are important to us, but loss of prairies is making it harder for bees to find a food source.
Our native bees have ancient relationships with Carolinian wildflowers. They contain nectar that our native bees have relied on for centuries.

Prairie habitats once covered 14% of Ontario, but they were the first habitat to be destroyed when settlers arrived. Grasses were easier to remove than forests, so prairies were set on fire to make way for crops. Tallgrass prairies quickly disappeared. “Now we’re down to less than 3% prairie habitat, but that number is actually deceiving” Irazuzta says. Most of the habitat is left in very small sections, often on road sides or railway side. “Once you drop below a critical size, it can’t sustain lot of species. Fragmentation is a huge issue for all types of habitats, but it really does affect prairies.”  These fragmented prairies lead to extirpation of species they once supported.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Will Your Avocado-Toast Push Monarchs to Extinction?

Post by our summer intern, Saige Patti!

Millennials may be giving up on the idea of house ownership as they spread their toast with creamy, delicious, green fruit – but are avocado lovers giving up on monarch butterflies?

Monarch populations have dropped by 90% since the 1990’s.

In the past, the decline in monarch populations has been largely correlated with loss of common milkweed – the only plant on which monarchs lay their larvae. Milkweed decline has occurred mostly in agricultural crops. The plants can’t survive contact with the chemical glyphosate from Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide. Agricultural milkweeds in the Midwest are significant: they have 4 times more monarch eggs than non-agricultural milkweeds, and in 2012 an 81% decline of agricultural milkweeds correlated with a decline 81% monarch production decline.

Unfortunately, declining numbers of milkweed plants are not the only thing affecting the monarchs.

A new threat has emerged: our beloved avocados.

While planting more milkweed and avoiding Roundup Ready GM crops are key steps to restoring habitat for monarch butterflies in North America, an increase in demand for avocados may annihilate crucial portions of their habitat in Mexico.

Popularity of avocados has surged in North America in recent years. With avocado being used for guacamole, sandwiches, smoothies, salads, pastas, and even desserts, it’s no wonder the versatile fruit is in demand. The market is also starting to expand globally; distributor Mission Produce Inc. is aiming to find ways of increasing avocado sales in China, which would greatly increase demand if it became popular.

The avocado business in Mexico is lucrative. With prices rising, it’s a good deal for land-owners to clear cut the forest and start growing crops.

The problem is that avocado crops grow in the same climate and altitude as the pine-oak forests which contain oyamel trees, or sacred fir trees. These are the trees on which monarchs spend the winter. When these forests were abundant, monarchs would overwinter in expansive areas of the sacred fir trees. Now, they cluster in a few groups of trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Oyamel forests are Mexico’s most endangered forest type with only 2% of the original forest remaining.

Monarchs are adapted to a delicate microclimate created by these forests, which changes when the forest is thinned or the perimeter is eliminated.

What is left of Oyamel forests is crucial to the survival of the monarch species.
Most of the butterflies overwinter in the Mexican State of Michoacán, where 20,000 hectares a year are converted for agricultural use, according to the attorney general's office for environmental protection. Avocados account for 30-40% of annual forest loss.

Deforestation as a result of avocado farming further adds to the effects climate change is already having on the forests. A 2012 study predicted that a changing climate could account for a 69.2%, decrease of sacred fir trees, and that increasing temperatures might require people to move trees 275m higher to cooler temperatures, and out of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve by the end of the century. Additionally, trees are felled to create single-use crates in which the avocadoes are shipped.

Mario Tapia Vargas, a researcher at Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research, says that even where deforestation has not yet happened, there are areas with avocados growing in the understory. This alters the natural forest ecosystem and it’s ability to support wildlife. Tapia Vargas says it won’t be long before the forest around these crop trees are cut down as well.

With monarch populations already headed for extinction in the next 20 years based on milkweed decline, the effect of avocado crops would contribute even further to eliminating vast numbers of monarchs. This is dangerous, since small populations are more vulnerable to sudden environmental changes, which are increasing with the effects of climate change effects.

Additional loss of monarchs as a result of future avocado crops could quickly lead to monarch extinction.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Respect the Park: More than just a kid's playground.

Parks and wide open spaces need to be elevated to the highest levels of importance in our planning and budgeting process, reflecting their potential as an organizing principle, not as afterthoughts. Beverly Sandalack, Associate Dean, Landscape and Planning Environmental Design, University of Calgary.
Victoria Park, Hamilton.
Back in March, staff from the Pollinator Paradise project travelled to Calgary to learn about the role parks play in the city, for the 21st century. Heart of the City Conference (Shaping the future of city parks in Canada) (Park People) explored many functions of a public park--one of the main ideas being that parks, for many reasons, are the heart of a city.

Parks support green infrastructure.

We have challenges. Many challenges. With climate change comes high temperatures, droughts, flooding, and habitat decrease. But in our cities, we can do much to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Urban parks and open spaces have an enormous role to play in this respect.

Parks provide habitat, food and shelter for wildlife as well as trees which filter from air pollution and offer shade and comfort. When it comes to wide open spaces such as meadows, these are not generally thought of as being attractive or useful, unfortunately. But in the city, we need these spaces urgently because like urban parks they support local biodiversity.

Urban parks are important in the effort to create more resilient cities. They are green infrastructure that should be invested in. It's time to step up the role of parks as not just a playground for the little kiddies. We need to view parks not just as an add on, but as part of a complex system, incorporated into planning and design. We need to think of these spaces the way we do with natural areas – using a systems, multifunctional approach that can greatly contribute to increasing resiliency in the context of climate change and stormwater management.

Urban parks, open spaces, along with schoolyards, faith communities with outdoor space and even areas around parking lots can capture all stormwater from a given site as well as serve as a carbon sink, and reduce heat island effects (these occur when urban development such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. Surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an "island" of higher temperatures in the landscape).

Park as a public space
Parks have a long history as democratic spaces open to all in a city, acting as catalysts for interactions between people of different backgrounds and reducing intolerance.The contribution of local parks, Alexsandra Kazmierczak
There are not that many public spaces to gather in. The park therefore is an asset that ought to be cherished in any community. The potential for community involvement is massive. Not only as a way to engage residents in animating and using the park (animation is important, people need to feel there is a reason to go to a park), but also to make use of the public space on engaging residents around other issues.

At the conference, we learned about ways to "catalyze" the social impacts of parks including connecting people and reducing isolation. Park People (which is an independent charity that builds strong communities by animating and improving parks, placing them at the heart of life in cities) focuses especially on the work community members, municipalities and partner organizations in underserved neighbourhoods in recognition of growing inequality and the prevalence of neighbourhood-based inequalities. This is critical. We can't all go to the cottage or skiing, or camping, or hiking in Algonquin park. Newcomers, people of low income might not even have back yards. Of course, another main benefits of park spaces are social--reducing isolation and increasing connection between people.

Do More with our Parks.
Here in Hamilton, we are fortunate to be surrounded by much green space in general. How are we maintaining these spaces? what can we do better to increase engagement and make them more enjoyable to be in?
The City of Hamilton's The Adopt-a-Park program is a year round volunteer program where volunteer groups sign up to help maintain and care for trees, flowers and shrub beds in our local parks. Many groups hold events to promote park usage or fundraise for park enhancements such as benches, trees and play structures.

The City also has other programs for community members to get involved in, including the Community Clean Trailer and the Clean & Green Trailer which provides volunteers with the tools they need to beautify our city parks, alleyways, trails and neighbourhoods.

Our own Pollinator Paradise project has worked in many parks across the city to plant habitat and we plan to do more. In particular, we have been thrilled to work with Crown Point volunteers and residents to create habitat along the Pipeline Trail. A group that evolved from this work is the Crown Point Gardening Group. This wonderful group of gardeners share ideas as well as plants, and organize around other issues concerning their neighbourhood.

Park People have many great resources include Sparking Change, Catalyzing the Social Impacts of Parks in Underserved Neighbourhoods, and how to engage residents to participate.

Sparking Change has identified five different social impacts of park engagement: creating a sense of change and shared ownership, building confidence and inspiring civic leaders, reducing social isolation and creating more inclusive communities. providing a place for diverse people to gather and supporting local economic development. "Parks are not simply green places of respite--they are critical pieces of the social infrastructure of our cities. And we believe they have a role to play in creating more inclusive, equitable places that are shaped by and for the people living there."

Parks have massive potential for community development, according the the Sparking Change report. Think: social gathering space, recreation, cultural exchange, and of course, green spaces for habitat. Municipal spending on city parks still falls at the bottom of the queue when it comes to ranking the relative importance of a city's property tax funded services.
Their other resources include:
Financing City Parks in Canada: What Might be Done?
Green City A landscape approach for the 21st century.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Gothic Boat and Contemplations of the Pollinator Universe

Check out this beautiful piece by Monarch Awards' entrant, Calla Shea-Pelletier.

Chance is one important component in our garden. The beauty of it, entirely the collaboration of pollinators and humans. The placement and shape of a deck last year builds upon years of cultivating a theme of sanctuary. The gothic boat deck is suggestive of a human conveyance slowly moving through. It is an echo of the windows of the porch and the shape of the gardens. A subtle emphasis of the gothic theme, found in the choice of (almost) black and white plants, both native and non-native, punctuated with feature colours.

The lawn has been entirely replaced over the years, with the intention of cultivating pollinator gardens, pathways and rest stops.  Each year more opportunity for imaginative interactions unfold. The beauty we aspire to, embrace whimsy, multiple histories, and locations for foraging or refuge.

There is an abundance of inhospitable urban environments out there. If beauty is also compassion, our efforts bring together communities of plants, creatures and human built environments for gentle collisions to contemplate the pollinator universe.

Poem inspired by a seven year old, who volunteered this information:

“I want to be a pollinator,
I will carry small brushes with me”
she said making the motions
of pollinating with tiny instruments.
In the moment I understand,
she is compassion itself,
“I hope you won’t have to live in a world
where such a job is necessary”, I say
fearing that she already did.

June 24th, 2017
Calla Shea-Pelletier

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Urquhart Butterfly Garden: Summer Series and Competition

Clouded Sulphur 2016 Photo by Michelle Sharp

We love sharing pollinator-supportive events in our community, so we are excited to let you know about the free Summer series at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden.

The series kicks off on Saturday July 15 with Matt Mills leading a Guided Butterfly & Bird Identification Walk.  Matt is an experienced naturalist, with a vast store of knowledge and an engaging manner.

The Garden is humming with life, “I am never disappointed by what I see at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden,” Matt said recently. If there are rare butterflies to be seen Matt will find them, as well as locating all the bird life hiding in the bushes or flitting among the trees.

The Guided Walk takes about an hour and begins at 11 am on Saturday, July 15. You are requested to wear a sun hat and bring a chair.
If it rains the walk will be cancelled.

The Summer Programme will be held every Saturday until September 2.
The Urquhart Butterfly Garden is located at the end of Centennial Park in Dundas. All ages are welcome.

Media Contact: Joanna Chapman – Coordinator, Urquhart Butterfly Garden
Phone: 627-8697 email:

For more information about the Summer Programme please visit 
The Summer Series 2017 is funded by the Dougher Fund of the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Urquhart Butterfly Garden Photo Contest 2017

The Monarch butterflies are already arriving, and when the sun shines there are quite a number many species butterflies to be seen at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden, plus lots of other wildlife action.

This year Photo Contest began a month earlier than usual, and continue until after Labour Day in September.  Photographers of all ages are eligible for both cash and certificate awards in four categories:  Butterflies and Moths;  Insects, Spiders and Bugs; Birds and other wildlife; Plants & Flowers.

Fancy camera equipment is not needed, some great photos have been taken on cell phones.  What is required is patience and a good eye for an interesting shot.

The Photo Contest  opened on Monday, June 5 and ends on Tuesday, September 5.  Entry information & rules can be picked up at the Urquhart Butterfly Garden or can be viewed on the UBG web site.

The Urquhart Butterfly Garden is located at the end of the Desjardins Canal.
Parking is available on King Street East, close to the Air Force Club.

For further information visit:

Joanna Chapman – Coordinator Urquhart Butterfly Garden
Phone 905-627-8917