Fall Food for Pollinators

Early goldenrod is an important food source for many native pollinators, and is often blamed for allergies. But, goldenrod pollen is not airborne; the culprit is most likely ragweed (a similar looking plant with airborne pollen that is a known allergen).

The Niagara Region supports a greater number of species than any other ecosystem in Canada.With approximately 2,200 species of of plants (flora) and animals (fauna), Niagara is also one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems (life zones) in all of North America. The climate in the Niagara Region is moderated by Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the Niagara Escarpment. All three geologic features work together to create a localized micro-climate characterized by warm spring and fall seasons with milder winters (as compared to other parts of southern Ontario). They combine to create rich mineral soils where rare and unique ecological communities thrive, especially the ones so many of our pollinators depend upon.

A great time to observe what the local flora and fauna Niagara have to offer is late summer and early fall, while plants and animals heighten their preparations for migration or overwintering. Goldenrod and aster are two important plants that provide essential food for a host of animals, including birds, butterflies and other insects such as bees (both native and honey bees). Early goldenrod starts flowering in Niagara in early to mid-August and can be recognized by its deep golden yellow pollen-laden stems. Other varieties of goldenrod soon follow, with asters flowering in late August. They can be recognized by their purple and deep pink daisy-like flowers, although some are also white. In Ontario, there are over 30 species of goldenrod and 34 species of asters. Most flower well into late October, thus surpassing almost all other flowering plants which have gone dormant for winter by then. As late fall bloomers, goldenrods and asters are critically important food sources for many species of animals incuding insects, birds and butterflies.

Animals — including our important pollinators like insects, bees, butterflies — are just like humans in that they require a healthy diet to thrive and survive. The honey bee, for example, requires the nectar (carbohydrates) found in flowers to provide the liquid necessary to create honey. They also require pollen (protein) from flowers to create “beebread”: a mixture of pollen and nectar that is an important food source for newly emerging young bees. In fact, honey bees require 11 different types of protein to complete all of their life-cycle functions. This calls for a diversity of plants with varied flowering times (from April to early November) to provide a rich source of pollen and nectar for optimum health. Similar to the honey bee, many other animals also have complicated nutritional requirements. Considering that habitat loss and degradation are recognized as the single greatest threat to plants and animals (and therefore biodiversity) in Canada, consider what this means for Niagara.

Sadly, we are losing our natural areas that are critically important to a large range of wildlife species. The good news is, many restoration efforts continue to take place by local conservation groups and private landowners. If every landowner in Niagara created or protected a small natural area on their property, these small changes would significantly add up to make a big difference in protecting the environment by reducing pollution, mitigating climate change by promoting carbon storage, and providing food to our much-needed pollinators.

There are many groups and resources available to help get you started, from providing advice on how to mow your grass less so the area can naturally regenerate and provide important nectar for pollinators, to more complex projects such as wetland creation. A great first step is to contact your local Conservation Authority https://npca.ca/restoration or Restoration Council http://niagararestoration.org/.

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock-Caspell, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca



Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog