Field Science Challenge #6 Pollinator Palooza

In the Rockies, a signal that summer is in full swing is the sound of buzzing pollinators busily gathering food in fields of wildflowers. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and the diverse array of flowers they visit are the focus of multiple research projects taking place at RMBL.  In recent decades, changes in climate have caused changes in the timing of flowering which then impacts when and where food resources exist for pollinators. Evolutionary ecologists, like Dr. Jessica Forrest of the University of Ottawareturn year after year to RMBL to better understand plant-pollinator interactions and their resilience to the challenges of a warming world.   

Recorded Lab Chat with Dr. Jessica Forrest

What We’d Like to Find Out: What types of plantpollinator interactions are taking place where you live?  Which plants provide pollen and nectar to which pollinators?  What mixtures of plants can support the greatest diversity of pollinators? 

What You’ll Need:  

  • A field notebook and a pencil  
  • A stopwatch 
  • 3 copies of the Plant-Pollinator Interaction Observation Chart
  • A camera or phone (optional) 

What To Do:  

  1. Choose an area with a variety of flowering plants where there are multiple individuals of each type of plant.  
  2. Choose a plant species to observe with at least three different individuals of your species of interest in order to complete the pant-pollinator observation chart for that species 
  3. After completing descriptive information in the chart, set a timer for 5 minutes to observe each individual plant and the pollinators that visit that plant.   
  4. Record a description of each pollinator and notice its behavior on the plant.  Does it land on it and fly away?  Does it spend time feeding on nectar or collecting pollen?  How long does it spend at the plant?  How many times does it visit this plant?  
  5. Keep a tally of the total number of pollinator visits to the plant while you are watching (even if it is the same pollinator returning, make a tally mark for each time it visits).   
  6. Choose a couple more species to do the same observation processes over again.  Notice if there are any differences in the diversity of pollinators visiting the different types of plants you observe.   
  7. Learn more about the pollinator research of Dr. Jessica Forrest by watching the recorded lab chat.  You can also learn more about Dr. Forrest’s work through her website: 

Please Remember (Research Rules & Ethics): This is a non-invasive method for studying pollinators.  Thank you for not catching the pollinators while they are busy doing their important work of helping plants reproduce! 

What Happened? Tell Us About It!  We’d like to know about the pollinator diversity you observe.  Also, if you take any great pictures of pollinators visiting plants, we’d like to see them.  We might even be able to help you with identification if you send us a good picture.    

So What? Next Steps: If you enjoyed observing pollinators, take a step to encourage their abundance and diversity.  Plant native flowers in your yard to provide food for pollinators or build and post a native bee nest block in your yard to provide a place for solitary bees (like leaf cutter bees) to lay eggs and produce a new generation of pollinators.  See directions for bee box building here: