Thank you all for joining us on the newest edition of the Watersheds and Wildlife Newsletter. As usual, I’m here to give a general update on the work and status of our team’s work over the last few months. We have been hard at work in terms of public outreach, especially since everything is opening back up post-pandemic. Click here to read the entire newsletter featuring the latest news from our Watersheds and Wildlife Program!
Thank you all for joining us for the most recent edition of the Prairie Rivers of Iowa Newsletter. The Watersheds and Wildlife Program has been hard at work over the last few months making progress on several projects. Some of the major work that we’ve done has been installing pollinator gardens in both Ames and Boone.
These gardens included 38 total plants from 14 species. All plants that were included are native to Central Iowa and provide both food and shelter resources to pollinators.
The Ames garden is located in Northridge Park, and the Boone garden is located in Cap Erbe Park. I would like to thank Keith Abraham from the Ames Parks and Recreation Department, and April Burch from the Boone Parks Commission for all of their help. Moving forward, we will be designing and installing informational panels that explain the benefits of these gardens.
This time of year also marks the beginning of a new initiative from the Watersheds and Wildlife Program, which is pollinator species monitoring. Over June, July, August, and September, we will be visiting public lands in Story County, and conducting surveys on pollinators and nectar plants. This will give us the opportunity to be able to track what species are on the landscape in real-time, while also being able to announce any findings of rare, threatened, or endangered species as we see them. If you see me out in a Story County park with a net and binoculars, feel free to stop and say hi!
It seems to be a yearly event nowadays, that we wait with bated breath for the release of the year’s final monarch count from Mexico, where they spend the winter. Similarly, each year, we’re let down with the news that the population has fallen again. This same thing has happened this year, with MonarchWatch’s yearly report from the field. Yet again we’ve seen a decline, with the total area covered by monarchs in their overwintering site falling 26% compared to last year, now only covering 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres). For a comparison, the indicator of a healthy Monarch population is an overwintering area of 6 hectares (14.8 acres). So what’s going on here, and more importantly, what does it mean?
It’s time for my controversial but true statement, monarchs really aren’t good pollinators. There, I said it! They don’t contribute very much to fruit or seed production, and they certainly don’t help with our food security. So what’s the deal? Why are we spending our time and energy monitoring and reporting on them? Well, there are a lot of reasons why protecting them matters. For example, if you felt uncomfortable, angry, or saddened by any of my previous statements in these last 2 paragraphs, then that’s a fantastic reason on its own to protect them.
Monarchs have a special place in the culture of Iowa, the Midwest, and North America as a whole. Most people that I talk to about the plight of the monarchs reminisce about seeing them delicately flying around in the summer. Many more, myself included, have fond memories of raising and releasing Monarchs as part of countless elementary school science classes. For many people, monarchs were a great introduction to the wonders of nature, highlighting how creatures can grow and change through time in order to adapt to their surroundings. Monarchs also teach us about migration and animal movement, how creatures overcome great odds, and large distances all for the sake of the next generation, who in turn will repeat the cycle.
Outside of nostalgia, metaphor, and symbolism, monarchs have an important role in conservation as what’s called an indicator species. Because of their size, recognizability, and large range, tracking a trend in the population of monarchs is far easier than, say, a small, camouflaged, yet more-efficient pollinator. If we know that both of these creatures have similar habitat and dietary needs, it is in our best interest, time and energy-wise to focus on the big, orange, easy-to-track species. By providing the good habitat, food, and space for a monarch, we can expect other pollinators to use those resources in a similar way. Similarly, if we see declines in monarch numbers, we can use that data to assume that other species of pollinators are also declining for similar reasons.
It’s in our best interest to protect monarchs, because by extension, we’ll be protecting pollinators as a whole. Now you may be wondering how you can help monarchs and pollinators, what things you can do to help reverse these declines? The good news is that no matter where you live, or how much land you have, you can help your local pollinators. All it takes to start is a few seeds, easy enough right?
Well, no…you need to make sure you plant the right seeds for the job. Monarchs and pollinators evolved right alongside our native plants, so those are the plants to grow that will cover all of their nutritional needs. If you aren’t able to access native plants, or don’t have the space for them, non-native nectar plants like lavender, mint, and clover are all good options (just make sure that they don’t spread outside of a designated area!) Also plant “host plants.” These are specific species of plants that caterpillars will eat to prepare them for becoming butterflies. The host plants for monarchs are famously milkweeds, but every other butterfly has their own version of this. Finally, your plants should bloom throughout the season, with species blooming continuously between May and October. This way, you’ll know that you’re providing a source of flood for hungry pollinators at all times.
Monarchs may not be the best at pollinating, but they are an important symbol. They symbolize migration, change, and the cycle of nature. They also symbolize pollinators as a whole, illustrating their needs, their declines, and their need for protection. Again, by protecting monarchs, providing them with spaces for them to grow, thrive, and eventually venture out from, we’ll be able to protect all of our pollinators.