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Weedy lawns can be helpful to stressed pollinators, UMass researchers say

  • A honeybee pollinating a white coneflower. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

AMHERST — Declining populations of pollinators is a major concern to ecologists because bees, butterflies and other insects play a critical role in supporting healthy ecosystems. Now a new study from urban ecologists at the University of Massachusetts suggests that when urban and suburban lawns are left untreated with herbicides, they provide a diversity of “spontaneous” flowers such as dandelions and clover that offer nectar and pollen to bees and other pollinators.

Private lawns make up a significant part of urban lands in the United States, an estimated 50 percent of city and suburbs, said Susannah Lerman and co-author Joan Milam, an adjunct research fellow in environmental conservation. They write, “Practices that support nesting and foraging opportunities for bees could have important implications for bee conservation in suburban areas.”

Lerman, an adjunct UMass Amherst faculty member who is also with the U.S. Forest Service, said, “We are still surprised at how many bees we found on these untreated lawns.”

In this study of lawns in suburban Springfield, she and Milam found that “spontaneous lawn flowers could be viewed as supplemental floral resources and support pollinators, thereby enhancing the value of urban green spaces.” Details appear in the current issue of Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

For this study, supported by the National Science Foundation, the researchers enlisted owners of 17 lawns in suburban Springfield.

Overall, one of their main findings, said Lerman and Milam, is that “when lawns are not intensively managed, lawn flowers can serve as wildlife habitat and contribute to networks of urban green spaces.”