URBANA, Ill. – Fluttering quietly and steadily from flower to bloom, 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 an estimated 40% of insect species, including the monarch butterfly, are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, driven primarily by habitat loss.
“The entomological community is gripped by this impending crisis, but the public doesn’t even know about it,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist with University of Illinois.
Now, there’s a way for backyard gardeners in rural and urban areas to help. For the third year, University of Illinois Extension is calling all lovers ofbees, butterflies, and every pollinator in between to join scientists for the community research project I-Pollinate.
Using at-home flower gardens either in the ground or in containers, I-Pollinate volunteers of all ages can observe pollinators and submit data to help track their distribution and habitats.
Volunteers will spend time outside, often with friends and young family members, learning about scientific research, plants and pollinators. Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup worked with project volunteers last summer.
“We learned how to identify what’s in our gardens, but also about the scientific process,” says Allsup. “Even no data is data that the scientists need to make recommendations on what plants can support pollinators.”
Researchers have three projects the public can join. One focuses on planting a study garden to see which ornamental landscaping flowers pollinators are food sources. Another tracks monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars.
Michael McKelvey is coordinating the I-Pollinate BeeSpotter project recording bumblebee and honeybee sightings to help create accurate distribution maps for Illinois. He says they hope more people in rural areas join.
“For creatures as small and hard to spot as bees, flies, and moths, there’s really no substitute for citizen scientists,” McKelvey says. “Many volunteers come from population centers which provides important data but also leaves blank spots on the map.”
Those interested in helping scientists conserve pollinators can learn more about the project at ipollinate.illinois.edu. Volunteers will be trained on how to collect data, with the first collection starting June 21 during National Pollinator Week.
ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for the University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and communities to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.