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How the Garden Helps Pollinators

Without pollinators, our world—and our lives—would be drastically different. Scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are at the forefront in understanding the threats plants and pollinators face—and the consequences of their declines. Garden scientists are working to help pollinators and their connections to plants, by studying how to save native bees and sourcing milkweed seed for monarch habitats.

monarch butterfly

Monarch Habitat Restoration Efforts

Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped about 90 percent over the past two decades. Conservation initiatives to support monarchs in the Midwest center on creating monarch habitats that include its host plant, milkweeds.

Budburst manager Jessa Finch, Ph.D., studies the variations between milkweed species and among populations within milkweed species. Her work will help inform seed sourcing practices in monarch habitat restoration efforts.

Native Pollinators and Climate Change

Native pollinators make nature run smoothly. Climate change poses a serious risk to native bees, especially in already warm climates.

Garden scientist Paul CaraDonna, Ph.D., found warmer temperatures under climate change may lead to the local extinction of mason bees native to the Southwestern U.S. The good news? He sees potential for the bees to adapt — something he hopes to investigate in the future.

Native Bees and Urban Habitats

Did you know a diverse group of native bees calls Chicago home? These urban dwellers have flexible diets and are not too picky about where they nest.

Graduate student Andrea Gruver recently found the critically endangered rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinus) at the Rogers Park Metra station in Chicago. Her discovery helps us understand how to promote healthy native bee populations, especially rare and threatened species, in cities.

Flies and Genetic Diversity

Midge flies pollinate jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) and breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis). The nutritious fruit of tropical trees could increase global access to food.

Garden scientist Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., collects and examines specimens from around the world to understand and conserve genetic diversity. She’s also studying how jackfruit is pollinated, which can help improve fruit yield.

Moths and the Health of Our Oak Woodland

Garden ecologist Jim Steffen has been studying the moths that live in our 100-acre McDonald Woods. He’s found 537 different species. Many of these moths rely on native plants for their survival. They also provide valuable clues about the health of our oak woodland.

Nighttime Pollinators and Light Pollution

Glowing skylines are beautiful, but city lights are a major problem for nighttime pollinators. Artificial lighting makes it easier for predators to hunt moths and bats, and makes it harder for light-averse pollinators to find food.

Garden scientist Krissa Skogen, Ph.D., studies evening primrose and the impacts of population fragmentation and light pollution on its pollinators. Possible solutions to light pollution: Point lights to the ground and use motion-detecting lights.

Hummingbirds and Climate Change

Climate change shifts the timing of natural events such as flowering, pollinator timing, and pollinator migration.

Garden scientist Amy Iler, Ph.D., found that the broad-tailed hummingbird arrives to its breeding grounds at its usual time. But the plant it pollinates is flowering much earlier, giving the bird less time to prepare. Research like this helps us to understand threats to natural ecosystems, and which species may be at risk for population declines, and why.

Beetles and Early Fossil Flowers

Ancient angiosperms—flowering plants—are the largest group of land plants, but their origins are not well understood. Angiosperms became abundant and diverse during the Cretaceous period, but very early fossil flowers are rare and very small. Garden scientist Pat Herendeen, Ph.D., uses electron microscopy and X-ray tomography (a way to see 3-D images from an X-ray) to learn details on their structure and anatomy.

You Can Help, Too

We invite you to join in on this critical plant conservation work. Budburst is a project of the Garden that makes it easier for citizen scientists to submit data and help scientists understand how plants are affected by our changing climate. Get involved.