Pollination Research

June 19, 2013 Rebecca Hufft, Ph.D. , Associate Director of Applied Conservation

Sclerocactus glaucusPollinators provide critical ecosystem services. Pollinator research is important to better understand the relationships between pollinators and plants and to improve conservation and management of both plants and pollinators. Here at the Gardens we work with roughly 70 of Colorado’s most rare and imperiled plants through surveys, monitoring, and seed collection. While we are learning more about each of these species, there is a big gap in our knowledge about the pollinators of most of these species.

Our pollinator research provides valuable information about the plants we monitor and enables us to better conserve and manage these species. Recent work we have done includes pollinator observations of the Colorado hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus). One question we are interested in is whether or not roads are impacting the pollinator communities of this species. We have found that bees are the main pollinator of this species and so far we haven’t found a difference in pollinator diversity or visitation rates.  In addition to gaining valuable information for management, our research also allows us to find some pretty cool organisms, including a tarantula hawk (Pepsis mildei). We found this wasp as part of our monitoring of Brandegee’s buckwheat (Eriogonum brandegeei) in Fremont County. This wasp stings its prey (a spider), lays a single egg on each subdued spider, and then the larval wasp eventually eats the spider. Pepsis mildei

In addition to learning about the pollinator community of the plants we study, we are also interested in understanding the impacts of changes in land use and climate on the pollinator communities and how that impacts the success of the plant communities. Expanded urbanization, recreation, and oil and gas development all impact the lands where our state’s rare plants occur. All of these have the potential to impact the pollinator communities. Some of our research aims at better understanding the current health of pollinator communities in the face of these land use changes. We also know that climate change has affected plants and animals around the world, including affecting not only survival but where and when activities occur. Changes in migration patterns and timing of migration and flowering can impact plant pollinator interactions, including mismatches in timing or location between the plants and animals. Researchers across the world continue to better understand pollinators and their relationships to plants to help further our basic understanding of the biology of these species and improve conservation and management.

Bee collected on Sclerocactus glaucusA basic component of pollinator research involves pollinator observations. Pollinator observations can be quite time consuming and require a lot of patience as they involve sitting in one spot for long periods of time observing a small patch of flowers. They can also be a fantastic way to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the plants and animals in the community you are studying. It isn’t often in research that you get to sit and spend a day (or many days) in one spot. If you would like to see what pollinator observations are all about and you will be visiting the Gardens this week, come join members of the Research Department collect pollinator observations each morning at 10:30AM through Saturday.


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