Professor Tufts University Medford, MA, United States
Cities have emerged as a frontier in insect pollinator conservation. Urban conservation differs fundamentally from conservation in natural lands because it hinges on community buy-in as much as it does on practice grounded in ecology. To date, efforts have largely focused on engaging a self-selected minority of the public via citizen science initiatives and highly technical guidelines. Yet, urban lands are partitioned among many landholders, meaning effective conservation is possible only through widespread adoption. Here, we will outline three barriers to urban pollinator conservation, and highlight the lessons we have learned from three years of community outreach work in greater Boston, Massachusetts. First, current social infrastructure for pollinator conservation is not accessible to the masses. Habitat creation guidelines consist of long lists of difficult-to-source native plants, and management recommendations target those with sufficient resources to expend. Second, there is widespread misinformation about insects, which means it is difficult for people to care about and develop a relationship with urban biodiversity. And third, we know astonishingly little about the resource needs of pollinators throughout the life cycle. We know a lot about where and when adults forage on flowers, but not about other stages like nesting and overwintering.
Over three years, our student-run group Tufts Pollinator Initiative engaged with more than 6000 community members. We found tremendous interest in pollinator conservation among the public, meaning widespread adoption can be achieved if this demand is met. To make pollinator conservation accessible to the masses, we lowered the economic and technical barriers to entry. We sold hundreds of native plants at a discount and disseminated easy-to-follow pollinator gardening recommendations for homeowners and landscaping practitioners. Second, we addressed widespread misinformation about insect pollinators through experiential learning. We provided community members and undergraduates with opportunities for close observation through “Pollinator Safaris,” which teach students names, habitats, and behaviors of common flower-visiting insects. Third, we filled knowledge gaps by studying urban pollinators throughout their life cycles. We learned that undergraduates can be trained in the necessary field skills, and through their work, our mentees made new discoveries about how solitary bees and butterflies use urban gardens throughout the life cycle. These lessons teach that urban pollinator conservation will be most effective when community members are engaged, educated, and empowered to be active participants—not idle recipients—of biodiversity conservation.