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Science Café: The Pollinator Project in Volusia Sandhill Teaching Landscape

Cynthia C. Bennington, Stetson Professor of Biology

On Thursday, April 20, at 7 p.m., the Gillespie Museum’s “Science Café” will provide an update on current research in the Volusia Sandhill Ecosystem, a restoration project on the museum grounds.

As part of a larger comparative study, Stetson biology professors Cindy Bennington and Peter May are measuring pollinator visitation rate and species composition in this campus restoration, acquiring baseline data to be built upon as the site matures.

A related project — a feasibility study of citizen-generated data for pollinator monitoring — has been completed by Sarah Garcia, a senior environmental sciences major.

Peter May, Stetson Professor of Biology

Supported by a Stetson University research grant, in the summer of 2016, professors Bennington and May recorded more than 1,300 insect visitors to two plant species (Spanish needles, Bidens alba, and Partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata).

“With increasing anthropogenic impacts on native ecosystems, urban habitat fragments may become important repositories for biodiversity, especially for plants and small animals. We are investigating the way in which the Volusia Sandhill Ecosystem, a small, recently established restoration site on our campus, supports insect pollinators,” explained May.

“Our results from a single season suggest that urban habitat fragments with a high density of native flowering plants, like the Volusia Sandhill, can support a diverse native bee community,” reported Bennington, “but butterfly and moth abundance may be limited by a lack of larval host plants.”

In addition to providing baseline data through this survey, the Pollinator Project seeks to enlist volunteers in collaborative field work and to educate about the importance of ecosystem restoration to native pollinators.

Sarah Garcia’s research has focused on what undergraduate students learn when engaged in monitoring insect pollinator activity in the site.  Garcia reports, “students across all majors seemed genuinely interested in learning about pollination, and pollinators, and the data reflected an increase in their knowledge of these subjects after participating in the project.”

She added, “This research project has been very inspiring for myself as a student, and lover of plants and plant systems. I feel that I’ve played a small role in teaching fellow students about an important topic that affects us all.”

“The Pollinator Project, which includes a research station with an insect collection in our east gallery, has enhanced our use of the Gillespie Museum as an outdoor classroom,” explains museum Director Karen Cole, Ph.D.  “This particular Science Café topic is ideal for Earth Week, engaging our community in science and encouraging sustainable practices.”

Bennington, May, and Garcia will speak Thursday, April 20, at 7 p.m. in the museum at 234 E. Michigan Ave. in DeLand.

This event is free to the public and offers cultural credit to Stetson University students.  For more information about Stetson’s Science Café series, contact Cole at kcole@stetson.edu  or visit the museum website at www.stetson.edu/gillespie.