Honoring Pollinators During National Pollinator Week

As some of you may know, pollinators come in all shapes and sizes – from well-known bees and butterflies, to birds and even bats. These animals are critical components in a healthy ecosystem, helping plants thrive and provide food to all members of the food chain. But many pollinators have been experiencing population decline in recent years, which prompted the designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” – to recognize the important role pollinators play in our world, and to focus on ways to help support pollinator populations.

MNA is proud to be a part of protecting many pollinators in Michigan – a few of these species are detailed here.

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Poweshiek skipperling photo by Kelly Nail, USFWS

MNA works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to better understand the decline of the endangered Poweshiek skipperling – a small butterfly at risk of habitat loss due to agriculture and landscape development. The Poweshiek requires plants and soils normally found in prairie fen habitats, which are a vulnerable natural community in Michigan. This once abundant butterfly can now only be found in a handful of sites in the world, including at MNA Sanctuaries.

Bumble bees are some of the most recognizable pollinators in the world, and have been the predominantly referenced species in the fight to save pollinators. The Rusty-patched bumble bee is one of these that have experienced decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use. The Rust-patched bumble bee, named for the brownish-orange patch found on the backs of males and worker bees, requires grasslands and prairies with undisturbed soil for both food and housing. However, many of these areas in the Midwest have been converted to farmland and other developments, such as roads. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears.”

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Rusty-backed bumble bee photo by Kim Mitchell, USFWS

One of the larger pollinators that can be found in Michigan is the Swallowtail butterfly. Many varieties of the Swallowtail exist, some more common than others, but they all play a critical role in the process of plant reproduction. One unique sight in Michigan is groups of swallowtails foraging along damp or muddy sand, where they sip dissolved minerals and salts. They are also for their caterpillar’s defense mechanism – a pair of false eyes that form on the fore section of their body.

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Black swallowtail butterfly photo by Marianne Glosenger.

It is critical that we recognize the important role that pollinators play in our natural communities, and work to protect those habitats that are critical for the pollinators’ survival. There are many ways that you can help pollinators that extend beyond this important week, learn more at pollinator.org or pollinators.msu.edu and canr.msu.edu/pollinators_and_pollination.

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Conservation Reserve Program Helps Restore Farmland at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary

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Contractors for Cardno plant bare root trees using a mechanical planter at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary.

Recently, MNA conservation stewardship staff began a multi-year prairie and forest restoration initiative at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County, which is funded by the Conservation Reserve Program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This project seeks to restore native cover on 36 acres of farmland at the sanctuary – helping to return the property to productive habitat for wildlife in the area. The project begins with planting 3500 bare root trees and approximately 150 pounds of native seed and 500 pounds of cover crop over the 36 acres, which will take several years to become well established.

Active management beginning this year will include targeted and invasive species management, as well as mowing to deter weedy competition and rodent damage to trees and shrubs. In a few years, prescribed burning will be included on portions of the restoration area.

This sanctuary lies within the Bean Creek watershed – an approximately 200 square mile area in southern Michigan. The Bean Creek flows into Ohio, where it becomes the Tiffin River, which then flows into the Maumee River and eventually into Lake Erie. Within the Bean Creek watershed, residents have observed diverse freshwater mussels, the shells of which provide habitat for aquatic insects and crayfish.

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150 pounds of native seed, 500 pounds of cover crop, and 3500 bare root trees fill an MNA work truck on its way to be planted at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary.

Conservation Director Andrew Bacon explains that the restoration project will help enhance the quality of the Bean Creek corridor for wildlife as it restores natural vegetation on farm fields immediately adjacent to the Bean Creek. Additionally, the restored riparian fields will assist with decreasing sediment erosion and the runoff of nutrients and pesticides into the creek. “These are targeted conservation practices for the Maumee River Watershed to help improve water quality and decrease nutrient loading in the river and in western Lake Erie near Toledo.”

Gypsy moths, an eaglet and 15 new birds: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

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A gypsy moth caterpillar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gypsy moth caterpillars attacking trees in southeast Michigan (MSU Extension): Effects of last year’s drought are still prevalent, as gypsy moth populations are rapidly increasing in southeast Michigan. The lack of rainfall in 2012 allowed more caterpillars to survive into the moth stage, resulting in mass defoliation in southeast woodlands. In defense, local property owners are wrapping Tanglefoot bands around tree trunks to prevent caterpillars from climbing. Additionally, recent rainy periods have allowed for the creation of Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus that naturally limits the species.

Bald eagles produce first eaglet in Stony Creek Metropark history (Daily Tribune): Though only 6 weeks old, a Stony Creek eaglet is making headlines. According to area birdwatchers, the baby eagle is the first of its kind born in the park since Stony Creek’s founding in 1964, as high levels of human activity have continually limited eagle reproduction in the area. Birdwatchers say the birth is a positive sign, revealing that Stony Creek’s efforts to protect bald eagles, such as improved water quality and better habitat management, are paying off.

Mayfly population is steady, indicating good water quality (The News-Messenger): After decades of little mayfly presence on Lake Erie, the species is back and its populations are remaining steady. Though Lake Erie has dealt with algae blooms and invasive species in recent years, these factors do not appear to be affecting the pollution-intolerant mayfly population at this point. Because mayflies are a vital source of protein, the lake’s ecosystem is showing positive changes as a result of the consistent mayfly population.

Fish Nets Found to Kill Large Numbers of Birds (The New York Times): A recent study in the journal Biological Conservation reveals that fishing nets have a much larger impact on bird species than was previously believed. According to the study, vessels that use gill nets snare and drown at least 400,000 seabirds each year, including penguins, ducks and some critically endangered species, such as the waved albatross. Because there are few proven ways to deter seabirds from nets, it is difficult to reduce this number of deaths. Still, many fishing enterprises are researching ways to solve the issue.

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Arapaçu-de-bico-torto, loosely translating to crooked-beaked woodcreeper, is one of the birds recently discovered in the Amazon. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bird extravaganza: scientists discover 15 new species of birds in the Amazon (Mongabay): Scientists working in the southern Amazon have recorded 15 new bird species since the start of 2013, making this group the largest number of uncovered Brazilian Amazon birds in 140 years. Though 11 of the new species are known only in Brazil’s forests, four others are found in areas of Bolivia and Peru as well. This especially large discovery is unusual because, on average, only seven new bird species are discovered worldwide each year.

BP Ends Gulf Cleanup in 3 States (The Huffington Post): Roughly three years after BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company officially ended cleanup work in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida last Monday. BP spent approximately $14 million attempting to return the shoreline as close to pre-spill conditions as possible, with more than 48,000 individuals involved in those efforts. However, work continues along 84 miles of Louisiana’s shoreline, which still shows damage from the spill.