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Growing CNLM’s Butterfly and Pollinator Conservation Program in new locations

Over the past couple of years, the Butterfly Program at CNLM has expanded to become the Butterfly and Pollinator Conservation Program, adding bees and pollinating flies to the list of species we care about. These insects are important in supporting our listed species directly and indirectly. For example, we found last year that federally threatened golden paintbrush produces virtually zero seed without visits from pollinators. Likewise, harsh paintbrush, a critical host plant for larvae of federally endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, requires pollination as well. And as we uncover important pollinator interconnections that must be maintained to support listed species, we reap additional benefits for restoration work.

A bumble bee on Lupinus lepidus (prairie lupine)

Recently, we’ve also expanded the geographic reach of this work. In spring and summer 2018, we monitored butterflies, bees, flies, beetles, and other flower-visiting insects at three prairies outside the South Sound: in Coupeville, WA (Whidbey Island), Portland, OR, and Corvallis, OR.  In each of those locales, we’ve sampled plant-pollinator communities at prairie sites undergoing restoration and in adjacent unrestored prairie. In other words, we’re tracking how and whether restoration is rebuilding communities that include healthy interactions among species and resilience to species losses. Pollinators are crucial in this context because without them, more than 90% of our native prairie forbs cannot reproduce. Pollinator communities and plant-pollinator interactions must be reestablished for native plant persistence.

Bee pollinating a Campanula rotundifolia (harebell) on the prairie (photo by B. Oxford).

Monitoring outside the South Sound also gives us a foothold to get some other important insights. As our Pacific Northwest summers become warmer and drier, it’s possible that some species inhabiting the western Oregon prairies will find that the climate they are adapted to no longer occurs where they live—that, in fact, it occurs farther north, in the South Sound. Likewise, species currently adapted to South Sound prairies may not find future South Sound conditions tolerable, but may be better suited to future conditions in the North Sound. Monitoring other prairies thus allows us to document and identify flower-visiting insects that may occupy our South Sound prairies in the future. In addition, beginning a monitoring program means we have a baseline to track changes through time at sites north and south of our South Sound preserves. Broadening our monitoring area and pollinating species are important steps to understanding prairie pollinators better in anticipation of current and future conservation need.