“If all birds dropped dead tomorrow, only chicken farmers and academic ornithologists would be inconvenienced. If all bees died out, there would be worldwide food shortages and perhaps one-quarter of the human population would starve.”
Excerpt from Keeping the Bees by Dr. Laurence Packer, 2010.
Although grasses dominate the prairies, it is the flowers that capture our eyes. The beautiful colours, sweet fragrances and sugary nectar of prairie flowers entice animals like butterflies, bees, flies, moths and hummingbirds into visiting them. Flower visitors become unwitting couriers for plants, moving pollen from one flower to another. Once the pollen on an animal rubs off onto another flower, the plants’ seeds will be fertilized and a new generation created.
Habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat degradation, pesticide poisoning, the spread of diseases and parasites and climate change are all negatively affecting pollinator populations in our communities and in Canada as a whole.
This affects everyone directly — one-third of all the food we eat is dependent upon pollinators. Imagine a future where our diets would be dramatically different, lacking many important nutrients and phytochemicals that prevent diseases like scurvy. Without pollinators, many fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, herbs and oil crops as well as fiber crops like cotton and flax would be gone!
Responding to this challenge, the Manitoba Museum is now taking aim at saving the habitat that supports plants and pollinators. With generous support from The Aviva Community Fund, the Museum wants to produce a free downloadable mobile phone application encouraging everyday Canadians to learn about and help protect wild plants and their pollinators. Whether you are planting your spring garden, hiking the local nature parks, or a teacher who wants to raise local awareness within your school or community – the Museum is counting on the public to participate and benefit from making positive choices to ensure the existence of local plants and insects.
Part of this effort includes seeking support through online voting for the project on the Aviva Community Fund website . The more votes it gets, the greater chance the app will become a reality. The project is called Click, Text and Pollinate and it’s aiming to raise the funds needed to develop an iPhone app to promote and educate people about Prairie Pollinators.
The mobile phone application will help individuals identify areas, such as urban habitat restorations, prairie gardens and regional, provincial and national parks where wild plants can be observed. By using the app, people will be able to identify the species they observe by accessing a collections knowledge database. Users will be given an assortment of information about the plant and the pollinators that typically visit it, and adaptable ways that they can protect these species for the communities of today and the generations of tomorrow.
Users will also be invited to create their own “Biocaches”: geo-referenced public places where they have observed interesting plants and pollinators. In this way the public will be able to add their own nature observations and photographs for others to view and enjoy.
The Manitoba Museum has partnered with the Virtual Museum of Canada for the development of a website featuring Museum collections called Prairie Pollination. The plan calls for the Museum to not seek any further request for support past the initial development and implementation phase of the website and mobile phone application. The mobile phone application will be completed and marketed for use by December 2013.
The impact this kind of effort has on the community is very broad, presenting great opportunities to expand and protect declining prairie plants and pollinating insects. This exhibit will be of interest to garden enthusiasts, local trail hikers, school programs and groups, researchers, students, families and museums galore!
The province’s largest, not-for-profit heritage and science centre, the Manitoba Museum is renowned for its vivid portrayal of Manitoba’s rich and colourful history, Planetarium shows, and Science Gallery exhibits.
The Museum holds a large Natural History collection containing more than 200,000 specimens, all of which are stored in secure, climate-controlled conditions. As the provincial repository, a large portion of the Museum’s collections is Manitoba material, but there are also many significant specimens from other parts of the world. The Natural History collections are developed and maintained as a “specimen library” of plants, animals, fossils, rocks and minerals for the province. Specimens are used for reference and research, in public and school programs, and in exhibitions.
By helping protect and preserve these collections of plants and insects along with their collection data, the Museum’s data is used to help scientists determine habitat preferences, and changes in species’ distribution and abundance over time. These specimens are therefore used to determine whether a species is in danger of becoming extinct.
Photos courtesy of Noah Erenberg, Terri Chick-Gall, Zach Vega