Researchers call on backyard scientists to help save pollinators | Home & Garden

URBANA — Fluttering quietly and steadily from flower to flower, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators do the hard background work of fertilizing flowering plants, fruits, and crops. But these unsung heroes are in danger. Studies have shown that an estimated 40% of insect species, including the monarch butterfly, are threatened with extinction in the coming decades, largely due to habitat loss.

“The entomological community is gripped by this looming crisis, but the public doesn’t even know about it,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois.

Now there’s a way for backyard gardeners in rural and urban areas to help. For the fourth time, the University of Illinois Extension is calling on all lovers of bees, butterflies, and every pollinator in between to join scientists in the I-Pollinate collaborative research project.

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Using flower gardens at home, either in the ground or in containers, I-Pollinate volunteers of all ages can observe pollinators and submit data to track their distribution and habitats.

Volunteers spend time outdoors, often with friends and young family members, learning about scientific research, plants and pollinators. Illinois Extension horticultural educator Kelly Allsup works with project volunteers.

“We’re learning how to determine what’s in our gardens, but also about the scientific process,” says Allsup. “Nor data is data that scientists need to make recommendations about which plants can support pollinators.”

Researchers have three projects that the public can participate in. One focuses on planting a study garden to see which landscaping ornamental pollinators are food sources. Another tracks monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars.

The I-Pollinate BeeSpotter project records bumblebee and honey bee sightings to help create accurate distribution maps for Illinois. Reports from rural areas are very helpful. He says they hope more people in rural areas will get involved.

Those interested in helping scientists conserve pollinators can learn more about the project at ipollinate.illinois.edu. Volunteers are being trained on how to collect data, with the first collection starting in June.

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