Anyone can build a small habitat in the midst of the sea of green that are our lawns. Whether it's a strip of right-of-way outside your city apartment, your manicured suburban lawn, or lots of mowed acres surrounding your home in the countryside, we all have a little bit of grass we could consider giving back to nature. Researchers are increasingly learning about the decline of native pollinators as they discover how mowed, watered, fertilized and herbicide lawns can negatively impact the environment. That's why University of Central Florida entomologist Barbara Sharanowski teamed up with ecologist Nash Turley to create the Lawn to Wildflowers program. They have developed an app to coach users on how to turn every patch of lawn into a natural wild flower habitat; it also collects valuable data. Discover spoke to Sharanowski about the new project, which started in May 2020.
Q: Some people may shrink at the thought of more bugs in their yard. What do you wish people knew about it?
BS: I am an entomologist and I love insects. I think everyone should like bugs. Anyone can go into their backyard and look at plants and see the interactions they have with beneficial insects. Not all insects are something you want to kill or control. Most of them are just doing their thing, and many are even helping us by naturally controlling pests or pollinating our flowers and crops. So I want people to start looking at them and raving about bugs instead of fearing them.
(Credit: Nash Turley)
Question: We know that bees are in trouble. How Will Lawn to Wildflowers Help?
BS: While many people talk about honeybees and colony collapse disorder, that's a non-native managed species in the US. What we really want to promote are native plants that enhance biodiversity and the abundance of native pollinators, of which there are thousands of species. . Meanwhile, there are so many lawns in the world, they use a lot of water and provide no resources for biodiversity. It's quite a waste, especially when even planting a small 6-by-6-foot pollinator garden can really do a lot for the native insects. That's why we're trying to get everyone who is able to convert some of their lawn into a pollinator habitat. That's the whole end goal of the project: to create something that contributes to better environmental health.
Q: What's in the app?
BS: The app provides people with information on how to convert a patch of lawn into wildflowers. There is information such as how to kill the grass in a sustainable way and which plants are best. We recommend using very different plants in different regions, but you just need to click on your region to find the right pollinator mix in your area. We also want people to collect data for us, because we want to know more about the abundance of pollinators and the diversity in the plots they created. That's why we've built a training game into the app that teaches people to spot large groups of pollinators – things like honeybees versus bumblebees versus all sorts of other bees, plus butterflies and some flies and beetles. People can play those games to study, and once they're good enough at it, they can start counting pollinators in their plot and submit data that we'll use for our research.
Question: What will you do with the information that the gardeners provide?
BS: We use the data to study factors affecting pollinators in the US and Canada. For example, we want to see how different elements in the neighborhood, such as how much nature reserve there is in the area, influence the abundance and diversity of pollinators (meaning, population numbers and variety of species.)
(Credit: Nash Turley)
Q: What are some of the biggest barriers to getting people to do this?
BS: We did a large email survey and found that the biggest barriers are time, not knowing how to plant a pollinator garden. Time will always be an issue, of course, but we hope that the resources we provide in the app – like videos, howto & # 39; and other information – remove that last barrier. The other stubborn barriers are things like homeowners associations and local ordinances that could restrict uncut areas. There's not much we can do about that, but we hope to motivate people to encourage their homeowners' associations to provide compensation for pollinator habitat because it makes things more beautiful. It doesn't make it unkempt; it actually makes the neighborhood more beautiful and serves biodiversity better.