Pollinator Progress in 2015

Our National At-Risk Native Pollinator Initiative made great strides in only its second full year of operation. In September, we signed an agreement with York University to collaborate on pollinator research, outreach, and stewardship. The agreement gives us access to York labs and faculty, and will allow York students to gain real-world work experience in Wildlife Preservation Canada projects.

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From left, Dr. Noël Sturgeon, Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Dr. Sheila Colla, and Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Executive Director Randal Heide formally announce the new partnership to benefit pollinators.

The highlight of 2015 was the establishment of multiple captive colonies of the rapidly declining yellow-banded bumble bee, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2014. This was an important step towards a future in which we can use self-sustaining captive populations to augment declining wild populations and reintroduce bumble bees to areas from which they have vanished.

In July, Science Magazine published an international study co-authored by our pollinator program lead scientist, Dr. Sheila Colla. The study examined the effects of climate change on bumble bee distribution in North America and Europe, and shows that while the southern limits of bumble bee ranges are gradually moving north, the northern limits are not. This finding suggests that hands-on intervention may be needed to help bumble bees shift their ranges north in order to survive. News of this study ran in major media throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe, with several stories naming and quoting Dr. Colla. Also in July, Dr. Colla joined the Faculty of Environment Studies at York University.

Rusty-patched bumblebee

Rusty-patched bumblebee

The BumbleBeeWatch.org website, which we launched in 2014 in collaboration with several international partners, has received over 8,500 sighting reports ranging from Puerto Rico to Baffin Island. We currently have 46 sightings of the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee from five midwestern US states, as well as sightings in Virginia and Maine, where the species was thought to have been extirpated. Other rare species, and unexpected occurrences of common species, have also been recorded. A cellphone app for Android and iOS is currently in beta testing.

Taylor's Checkerspot

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly

Finally, on the butterfly front, 2015 saw the first releases of captive-bred larvae and adults from the Taylor’s checkerspot breeding program. This program was established by Peter Karsten, long-time friend of Wildlife Preservation Canada and retired former Director of the Calgary Zoo, as a volunteer project in cooperation with the B.C. Ministry of Environment. Currently, we have over 1,000 larvae in winter dormancy to support releases and breeding in 2015 and are making arrangements to move the program to the Greater Vancouver Zoo. This will provide greater capacity and better access to resources, allowing us to scale up the effort and make the program more visible to the public. It also takes a huge load off Peter, who, after a lifetime of service to the cause of conservation in Canada, is once again deserving of all our thanks, this time for stepping in the help save Canada’s las population of this critically endangered butterfly.