Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

How can homeowners in Ames be encouraged to increase pollinator-friendly practices in their yards? That was the question addressed by former Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard in a recently completed pilot project using Community Based Social Marketing strategies. Now that the pilot is completed, the project will move forward in 2023 to explore ways to apply what was learned to increase pollinator habitat along Iowa’s Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.

Community Based Social Marketing was developed by Canadian psychology professor Doug McKenzie-Moher, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior. It is used in developing and implementing community programs that make use of scientific knowledge of human behavior in effecting change. Community programs such as composting and conserving water and energy have used it to increase participation.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 70 to 80 percent of Iowa was once covered by prairie, producing rich agricultural soil and a lush environment for pollinators. Now, with 90 percent of Iowa’s land in agricultural production, less than one percent of Iowa’s prairie remains, simultaneously reducing pollinator habitat. “Doing this project I learned strategies to encourage pollinator-friendly practices that can be employed along Iowa’s byways,” says Orngard. “We are now exploring applying these strategies to make the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway a pollinator-friendly byway from the Mississippi to the Missouri Rivers. Some of Iowa’s other 13 byways have also expressed interest.”

Visitors to Jennett Heritage Area prairie near Nevada Iowa during Prairie Rivers Bees and Berries Family Adventure Day
Urban Pollinator Garden

While a number of groups (including Prairie Rivers) have focused on encouraging farmers, other large landowners, and local governments to improve pollinator habitat, this project will also include urban areas, businesses, and homeowners.

An initial survey was conducted to determine the perceived barriers and benefits of creating a pollinator garden. The results show that homeowners can face some big barriers such as knowing what types of plants to grow that provide diverse and useful habitat during all seasons. Additionally, by implementing pollinator-friendly practices, homeowners may, in some cases, go against societal norms of having a yard consisting primarily of well-groomed turf.

This project focused on strategies to encourage a paradigm shift in what landowners consider desirable, resulting in such practices as reducing pesticide and herbicide use, letting grass grow longer before mowing, and leaving leaves for overwintering insects.

To encourage year-round pollinator-friendly practices, Orngard worked with Xerces Society Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner/NRCS Partner Biologist Sarah Nizzi to create The Pollinator Friendly Yard: A Seasonal Guide informational flyer. Homeowners were asked to commit to increasing their pollinator-friendly practices according to their comfort level.

As a final strategy, Orngard worked with local artist Naomi Friend to create a charming yard sign homeowners can use to educate passersby about why some leaves are being left to provide habitat for overwintering insects.

Pollinator Garden Sign

Pollinator-friendly yard signs are available by contacting our office.

Orngard summarizes the pilot project as a success that will guide Prairie Rivers Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway and Watersheds and Wildlife programs, local community partners, homeowners, other byways, and communities throughout Iowa as they move forward with education and on-the-ground practices geared towards improving the environment for pollinators in our state.

This project was made possible in part by Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP) funding along with coaching support from the E Resources Group’s Dr. Jean Eells, a frequent Prairie Rivers of Iowa collaborator, and Rebecca Christoffel. The REAP-CEP funding also allowed Orngard to attend an online workshop by Doug McKenzie-Moher on Community-Based Social Marketing and Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and the Iowa Conservation Education Coalition Winter Workshop.

Shellie Orngard also contributed to the content of this article.

A Mother’s Love: The Race to Provide

A Mother’s Love: The Race to Provide

Metallic Green Sweat Bee

A speck of sunlight warmed the face of a mother, causing her to wake and stand up. She took a few steps toward the sunlight, letting it warm her cold legs in her tunnel. Looking back at the wall of her nursery, she knew she had limited time to finish her work. Behind that wall was a row of rooms, one for each of her eggs. Each nursery room was provisioned with pollen and walled off from the others, providing a safe place to hatch, overwinter, and hopefully emerge next year. Her antennae started twitching excitedly. She tried beating her wings; they buzzed. She was warm and ready for another day’s work.

She cautiously peeped over the lip of her nest entrance. She was a metallic green sweat bee, and just last week she watched as a parasitic bee invaded one of her neighbors’ nests, ending the hope of a future generation from that mother. To keep all her efforts from being in vain, she had to leave and enter her nest in complete secrecy. She scanned the area around her, checking for someone perched on the tops of rocks or hidden in the shaded spaces between grass stems. So far so clear. She stepped out of her nest, allowing the sun to warm her entire body. Looking around once more, and seeing no sign of threat, she zipped off to start her chores.

Gathering pollen was her favorite chore. She had already started a new nursery cell; all there was left to do was to lay an egg and provide a provision of food. Using the sun as a compass, she navigated to a large patch of gold that she had seen yesterday. The yellow rays of one unoccupied flower caught her eye, and she flew into its center, landing on a blanket of brown bristles topped with yellow tufts of pollen. The buzzing of other insects at neighboring flowers reverberated in the air around her, and caused the flower to tremble even more in the breeze. The air was slowly growing cooler each day. It was taking her longer and longer to warm up enough to fly in the mornings. The frantic buzzing of other insects confirmed a sense of fear she didn’t quite understand. She sensed that she must hurry.

Native Sunflower

Thinking of her young ones back at the nest, she worked as quickly as possible, picking up pollen and snatching a mouthful for herself every now and then. As she moved across the flower, she let her body brush against as much pollen as possible. She paused periodically to comb this pollen from her abdomen, head, and feet to tuck it onto her back legs where she had thicker, hooked hair that was much better at holding pollen in place. The sun shone on, warming her even more. Through the race to gather and provide for her family, it was nice to be out in the sun and surrounded by velvety gold rays. The bristled brown underneath felt good on her feet and belly. Once she was through gathering here, she remembered a bright purple area that had looked promising.

Looking for her Nest

After a while, the little sweat bee had as much pollen as she could carry. Pushing off the sunflower, she flew back toward her nest, only pausing once for a breath on a stand of purple flowers. Back on the ground, she felt around with her antennae until she found her own nest entrance. She peered inside her dark nest. All was quiet, just how she left it. She glanced behind her. No one had seen her; her family was safe.

As she pulled pollen off her legs and rolled it into a loaf, she had a sense that this may be the last nest she would finish. She felt much more tired compared to a few weeks ago. She was particularly proud of this nest: it was in a well-hidden location, its walls were smooth, and she had a good mix of pollen from different flowers within each loaf she had made for her children. Although she would never get to meet them, she was glad they would have all the nutrition they would need to start a successful life. She hoped they would find the yellow and purple flower patches. She grew more tired. Maybe one more pollen collecting trip before she turned in for the day.

New Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters Joins PRI Staff

New Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters Joins PRI Staff

Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s new Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters’s background includes extensive knowledge about Iowa’s ecosystems and native bee conservation. She’s a graduate of Kansas State University (KSU) with a Master’s of Science in Entomology and recently completed work as a research assistant organizing and analyzing a large dataset concerning native bee presence in soybean in fields.

“We are thrilled to have her join our staff and look forward to some significant contributions towards pollinator and native plant habitat creation, restoration and education throughout Iowa,” says Executive Director Penny Brown Huber.

Jessica has a history of collaboration that will serve her well in this new position. As a part of the team at Kansas State, she has co-authored publications on topics ranging from Providing for Pollinators: Conserving and Integrating Natural Habitats to Native Flowering Border Crops Attract High Pollinator Abundance and Diversity. At KSU she managed two projects that gave her and others a greater understanding of native plant and insect interactions, and landowner viewpoints towards conservation efforts and practices.

Connecting with the public is an area of expertise Jessica honed while serving as an insect zoo tour guide at KSU and as a private tutor where she was able to synthesize scientific information into something simple, fun, and informational to school children and diverse audiences. Central Iowa audiences will get their first taste of her expertise during the Ames Public Library’s Birds, Bees and Pollinators EcoChat on April 28.

Besides being a great presenter, Jessica’s scientific skills are impressive as well. She is just as comfortable while conducting research and analyzing data, creating maps using ArcGIS and R, identifying native pollinators and plants, talking about sustainable agriculture or creating the perfect bee house. They are skillsets that are critical when considering the challenges pollinators currently face in Iowa and beyond.

Please welcome Jessica to the Prairie Rivers team, and “bee” sure to reach out, say hello, and call upon her expertise when you need assistance with your next pollinator garden, native prairie restoration, or educational event.

During the application process, Jessica related, “I believe my research experience, passion for public relations, and solid bee and Iowa ecology background, blend perfectly together for this position.” We could not agree more!

Monarch in Native Prairie
Bumble Bee
Kids On the Byway Program
The State of Pollinators in Iowa

The State of Pollinators in Iowa

Special Note: This blog post is based on a presentation made by former PRI Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator David Stein. Editing and Design by PRI PR & Marketing Coordinator Mike Kellner.

Pollinators in Iowa are disappearing at an alarming rate due to climate change, disappearing habitat, pesticide use, and disease.

Prior to European settlement, about 85% of Iowa was covered with prairies, grasslands, wetlands, and forests. Now, less than one-tenth of a percent of Iowa’s original prairies are left while the rest of its land has been plowed for cultivation, cleared for development, or otherwise altered creating a lack of habitat, food, and water for pollinators in our state. In a sense, Iowa’s once-lush landscape has become a virtual desert, where more often than not, there is no food or water for pollinators sometimes as far as the eye can see.

Pre-Settlement Pollinator Habitat in Iowa
Pre-Settlement Pollinator and Wildlife Habitat in Iowa
Former land cover can give us insight into how to best currently manage and restore pollinator and wildlife habitat
Post Settlement Pollinator Habitat in Iowa
Post Settlement Pollinator and Wildlife Habitat in Iowa
Wetlands, forests, and most significantly, prairies and grasslands have all seen reductions resulting in habitat loss.  
Just Some of the Historic Trends in Pollinator Decline in Iowa
ORIGINAL SPECIES LIST

  •  Skippers —47 Species
  • Hairstreaks and Blues — 25 Species
  • White, Yellow, Orange Butterflies — 11 Species
  • Brush-Footed Butterflies — 38 Species
  • Swallowtails — 6 Species
  • Metalmark Butterflies —1 Species
MOST RECENT SURVEY

  • Skippers 27 Species — (43% loss)
  • Hairstreaks and Blues — 14 Species (44% loss)
  • White, Yellow, Orange Butterflies — 6 Species (45% loss)
  • Brush-Footed Butterflies — 25 Species (35% loss)
  • Swallowtails — 4 Species (33% loss)
  • Metalmark Butterflies —  0 Species (100% loss; not seen since 1930)
Some Species You Will Never See Again
Other Threatened and Endangered Butterflies
Acadian Hairstreak
Aphrodite Fritillary
Banded Hairstreak
Black Dash
Broad Winged Skipper
Byssus Skipper
Columbine Duskywing
Common Ringlet
Common Roadside Skipper
Compton Tortoiseshell
Crossline Skipper
Dakota Skipper
Dion Skipper
Dreamy Duskywing

Dusted Skipper
Edward’s Hairstreak
Eyed Brown
Gorgone Checkerspot
Gray Comma
Harvester
Hayhurst’s Scallopwing
Henry’s Elfin
Hickory Hairstreak
Horace’s Duskywing
Juniper Hairstreak
Juvenal’s Duskywing
Leonard’s Skipper
Little Glassywing

Long Dash
Meadow Fritillary
Melissa Blue
Monarch
Mottled Duskywing
Mulberry Wing
Northern Broken Dash
Northern Pearly Eye
Ottoe Skipper
Ozark Baltimore
Pawnee Skipper
Pepper & Salt Skipper
Pipevine Swallowtail
Poweshiek Skipperling

 

Purplish Copper
Reakirt’s Blue
Regal Fritillary
Silver Bordered Fritillary
Silvery Blue
Sleepy Duskywing
Southern Cloudywing
Striped Hairstreak
Swamp Metalmark
Swarthy Skipper
Two Spotted Skipper
White M Hairstreak
Wild Indigo Duskywing
Zabulon Skipper
Zebra Swallowtail
Threatened and Endangered Bumble Bees — They Are Still Here, Let’s Work Together to Protect Them While We Still Can!
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

American Bumble Bee

American Bumble Bee

Plains Bumble Bee

Plains Bumble Bee

Yellow Bumble Bee

Yellow Bumble Bee

Steps We All Can Take to Reduce Pollinator Decline
• Learn from the past
• Plant a lot of flowers of different species
• Use native plants
• Reintroduce rare plants
• Don’t waste space on turf
• Remove invasive species
• Diversify agriculture
• Treat ecosystems as vital infrastructure
Native Plant Diversity
Diversified Agriculture
Visit with our Watersheds and Wildlife program to learn more about helping pollinators by planting the right native host plants for for food and nectar, using alternative lawn seed mixes, best practices for nesting and much more!