Three students are planting flowers and raising awareness about the importance of declining populations of pollinators after being assigned a project for their NRS 223 Conservation of Populations and Ecosystems course.
Tasked to create a project that has some type of long-term change, these students are hoping to both increase the biodiversity on campus and to raise awareness by planting native Rhode Island flowers in the Agronomy Farm.
“With increased urbanization, there’s been a lot of disturbances of native habitats [which] are essential to supporting pollinator populations,” said Jon Ludovico, environmental science and management major. “As you start to lose the habitat, you start isolating populations.”
Pollinators consist of bees, butterflies, birds and anything else that spreads pollen from one plant to another. Pollinators, especially bees, are isolated to areas that have plants that are blooming throughout the season. “If you don’t have that whole time-period covered you can’t support a population,” Ludovico said.
Aidan Barry, another member of the group and a biological science major, explained that plants and pollinators rely on each other to survive. “The flowers need the pollinators, the pollinators need the flowers,” he said. “Without one, the other will not last.”
This project will take about three years until the flowers will start blooming. This past weekend the three group members, Ludovico, Barry and Alby Brandon, have started to stratify the seeds to prepare them to be germinated. According to Ludovico, this could take anywhere from a week to 90 days, depending on the plant.
Barry was interested in the topic of pollinators because he didn’t know much about it. “There are a bunch of flowers around URI and I feel like people walk by them and know nothing about it,” said Barry.
Barry and Ludovico explained that the group came across some difficulty in their project, especially when they tried to get seeds with the right genetic make-up. “We don’t want to bring in plants from like Virginia because we don’t know how they’ll react to the [Rhode Island] habitat,” said Barry. “A large issue we found is that there isn’t a place in RI that’s producing seeds massively so anyone could go out and just plant them without adding the risk of genetic variation.”
Ludovico explained that they are being supported by Dr. Hope Leeson’s project, who is part of multiple non-profit organizations such as Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, New England Wildflower Society, The Nature Conservancy-RI, Save the Bay and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. Leeson has been collecting native Rhode Island flower seeds by hand to hopefully then distribute them to people around the state.
“Eco-type is a whole other thing that we’re trying to preserve,” Ludovico said. “Basically, any plant from a different region has spent a lot of time adapting to that region… a lot of landscapers end up bringing the same species but of a different region so the genes cross and then you’re in danger of introducing an invasive version of the species or introducing a version of the species that can’t tolerate local conditions.”
The group is working to get their seeds all from Rhode Island. They are hoping to be able to plant nine different wildflowers. “Hopefully that will supply a lot of habitat for pollinators and also be a nice spot to get natural bees and butterflies, natural pollinators,” Ludovico said.
To go along with their project, the group is creating a binder cataloging the different flowers they will be planting in the Agronomy Farm into a binder. They will be adding a lot of information into this binder that will hopefully make it possible for other people to follow along in their footsteps. “Our hope is that it will, one, help us with our own planting and, two, it will be really beneficial towards future classes… hopefully in the future people will add to it and eventually we will have a sort of cookbook of plants for local RI flowers,” Barry said.
Next fall they will be planting their flowers with the help of NRS 501, a class about restoration ecology.