What’s the buzz? A case study on pollinators in Chicago

Kelly Garbach, Tania Schusler, and Ping Jing, Loyola University Chicago
Dustin Herrmann, University of California-Davis

Abstract: This case study focuses on services provided by pollinators to an urban garden in Chicago. It integrates considerations of the social, biological and physical elements of urban ecosystems as well as urban agriculture, and students will elaborate these relationships and critical links by developing and refining a concept map. The case study encourages student inquiry about pollinators native to IL and the Great Lakes Region, as well as similarities and differences with managed Honey bees. Students will learn about pollination as an ecosystem service (and elaborate on bees as mobile ecosystem service providers at advanced levels). The case also incorporates elements on climate change and outcomes for pollinator activity and conservation. It concludes with stakeholder identification, evaluation, and a synthesis paper.

Topical areas: Environmental science, ecology, conservation biology, urban sustainability, climate change
Educational level: Introductory undergraduate courses; Upper level undergraduate or graduate courses with modifications
Type/method: Problem-based learning (entire case), Interrupted case (specific class sessions)
Time required: Designed to occur over 3-4 hours in class with related reading and other assignments to be completed by students out of class

This case addresses the following Socio-Environmental Synthesis learning goals:
      Ability to describe a socio-environmental system, including the environmental and social components and their interactions.
      Activities: brainstorm system elements, draft a concept/system map, research and report on focal pollinators
      Ability to consider the importance of scale in addressing socio-environmental problems.
      Activities: analysis of stakeholders and strategies for intervening in system to create change supporting native pollinators; write a synthesis paper including recommendations

Learning Objectives: As a result of completing the activities in this case study, students will be able to:
      Describe a socio-ecological system, including the environmental and social components and their interactions.
      Define ecosystem services and explain that pollination is a supporting service, pollinators (in this case native bees) are the service provider, plants are the direct beneficiary, and people and other wildlife are the indirect beneficiaries.
      Describe how human activities have caused decline of native bee populations: habitat loss, pesticide use.
      Explain potential impacts of climate change on pollination and discuss implications for pollination in urban food production.
      Create a visual diagram/concept map of this socio-ecological system.
      Identify stakeholders in pollinator conservation.
      Identify individual and collective actions to conserve and increase pollinators in the Chicago region.
      Consider the importance of scale in addressing socio-environmental problems.
      Describe interactions between people and pollinators across geographic and temporal scales, and explain nestedness (i.e., a backyard nested in a neighborhood nested in the city nested in the region)

Introduction/Background: This case was developed for a 100-level environmental science course for predominantly non-majors. It is suitable for introductory courses in environmental studies, ecology, conservation biology, or urban sustainability and could be modified for upper level courses. The case begins with the story of an urban garden manager who is puzzled by a poor squash harvest. This leads to discussions on the importance of pollinators for ecosystems and human society.

Classroom Management: The case is designed to occur over three class periods, which we refer to as “blocks.” Classroom management notes are provided below for each of the three blocks.

The following class management notes accompany the Power Point, in-class activities, and bee research assignment in Block One (B1). Prior to class, students should read the Preface and Chapter 1 from Attracting Native Pollinators by The Xerces Society.

     Present the focal garden, Uncommon Ground. Encourage the class to discuss challenges/opportunities they perceive for growers in an urban environment.

     Talk through Guiding Question 1: What are the biotic and abiotic resources needed for producing food in an urban environment? Do these have management considerations that are similar/different from considerations in rural farms?

Notes: students should think about the following abiotic factors at a minimum:
Soil, light, water, temperature
Soil and water considerations: soil may need to be collected and transported from another location (especially if we’re talking about created garden beds on a hard surface, such as the rooftop garden in our focal garden). Advanced students may also note that soil formation and nutrient cycling processes are not likely to occur naturally, and must be “engineered” by the managers of the agroecosystem. Water also needs to brought in: main choices are municipal water (e.g., standard hose & sprinklers) and rainwater capture. Rainwater can be a good option, but filtering is often needed and if stored for longer periods of time, limiting growth of bacteria/ potential pathogens is a key consideration.
Light and temperature considerations: light intensity and availability will vary seasonally; shade from other buildings is often an important consideration in the city for garden placement (e.g., plants in beds placed in full shade may not thrive). Sun-loving plants like tomatoes, should be placed in beds that get the most light; plants that are tolerant of cooler temps and some shade can be placed elsewhere.
Biotic factors to consider:
Humans, plants we select, all the fauna associated with plants: including beneficial insects, like bees that provide pollination, as well as organisms that can act as pests, including herbivores that graze on plants as well as the web of their natural enemies (e.g., parasites and predators). Humans (and our pets!) can also play the role of pests in an urban environment, if we harvest crops uninvited, or contaminate growing areas with trash or other wastes.

Activity1: Students sit in groups of 2-3 to discuss Guiding Questions, and write down notes on the Guiding Questions. Remind students to write legibly, as these responses will be turned in at the end of the class meeting.

The instructor may also consider filling in the slide as students brainstorm (with an intro-level class). These responses will create a bank of ideas to draw upon in the concept map in Activity 2.

     Talk through Guiding Question 2: Pollinators were among the important biotic factors in our agroecosystem. How do growers determine the importance of pollination on their garden or farm? Hint: What crops are being grown? Which depend on pollinators?

Notes: This may be a good time to review some highlights of the pollination chapter from Xerces Society (which students read prior to class)—Key highlights include that about 70% of our staple crops require insect pollination, and that 1 in every 3 mouthfuls of food and drink is pollinated by bees. Students should have captured that honey bees are an important part of this equation, and that European honey bees are an introduced species that’s placed in hives and managed near crops. There are also a number of bee species that are native to IL (this will be further developed in the Bee Research and Reporting Assignment).

     Talk through developing a concept map—
Describe the key elements of the social, biological and physical elements in our case study on Chicago pollinators. Create a visual representation on how they fit together, and their key interactions.
Notes: We’ve discussed important elements of the social, biological and physical elements in our case study on pollinators in Chicago. Your task is draw out how these elements fit together, as well as key interactions. Make sure your drawing is clear and well-labeled, and includes your name so that you can turn in your concept map at the end of class.
This poster on the slide was created by the pollinator partnership, (Pollinator Partnership: www.pollinator.org ) and it has some elements of how social, and biological elements relate to one another (Note: there’s not much going on here for the physical environment). Instructor may want to emphasize that this approach needs more detail to be an appropriate concept map for a class output.

     This second concept map describes major categories discussed in relation to resource governance in social-ecological systems, found on www.sciencedirect.com. Highlight that students may want to consider including the social, ecological and physical systems as the major categories in their concept maps. Then these categories will need an additional level of detail, that describes the key elements included in each. As the concept map progresses, students should be thinking about how the key elements interact. This can be represented visually with arrows—and students should be able to describe what each of the arrows represents. This is something that students have seen before with food webs.

     Activity 2: Have students work in groups of 3 to draw concept maps (a sheet is included in page 3 of the student handout). This should take about 15-20mins. Encourage students to discuss with one another, and raise questions to share with the broader group. Remind students that this draft will be turned in at the end of class, and the whole team (class) will revisit their drafts in Blocks 2, 3 of this case study.

     Transition to talking about bee research and reporting assignment. Introduce the focal bee species with visuals, and then distribute and talk through assignment:

As an early career environmental scientist, you’ve been tasked with researching bees in the Chicago area as part of a case study on urban agriculture and pollinator conservation. There are excellent resources at your disposal through the following partner organizations:

     Xerces Society’s Pollinator resource center: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/
     Chicago Botanic Garden: http://www.chicagobotanic.org/conservation/bees
     Bee Spotter: http://beespotter.mste.illinois.edu/

In addition to exploring around and using these resources, highlight that these links are starting points; it’s very important to follow up with other pages and explore beyond the suggested “landing page.” Note that students need to identify and suggest at least two additional/original resources as they research and report on the five focal bee species. Resources can be books, articles, or online resources. Instructors may wish to specify a citation style for students to use.

Conclude Block One (B1) with the following next steps:
Turn in at the end of class:
     Turn in your notes on the guiding questions (handout)
     Draft Concept map
For next time:
     Research on pollinators completed and ready to turn in at the start of class. This includes details for each focal pollinator, as well as recommendations for at least two additional/original resources.

In Block Two (B2), students are asked to discuss in groups the impact of climate change on pollinators, such as bees. Using their understanding of the important ecosystem services provided by pollinators, students also discuss the consequent impacts on farmers. A PowerPoint document accompanies this Block.

1. Introduction (5 minutes)
Describe to students that spring in the Rocky Mountains now arrives earlier, as indicated by earlier snowmelt in the Rockies. Ask the students the guiding question, What may have caused the spring snowmelt to occur earlier? The instructor can use a few minutes to generally explain how human activities (such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation) have caused the enhanced greenhouse effect and therefore contributed to global climate change.

2. Have students gather into the same groups they worked in Block One. Inform the students that each group should submit one copy of their answers to the questions in the handout in writing.

3. Give students the handout, “Bee” Confused by Climate Change. Show the second PowerPoint slide of this Block.

4. Students read the story. (5 minutes)

5. Students discuss the questions in the handout. Remind them to write down their answers. (20 minutes)

“What can we do to conserve and increase pollinators in our city?”

In Block Three (B3), students are asked to identify actions that can be taken to conserve pollinators at three scales: site, neighborhood, and region. Using their system map generated earlier, students identify opportunities for intervening in the system to create changes intended to conserve or increase pollinators in the city. As they move from the site to larger geographic scales, they (1) recognize the nestedness of systems, and (2) realize the need to work with other stakeholders in order to have impact beyond the site scale. Students then learn how to conduct a stakeholder analysis, identify strategies for involving other stakeholders, and assess the likely effectiveness of proposed actions at these three geographic scales in the short- and long-term (bringing in the concept of temporal scale). Block 3 concludes with an out-of-class assignment for students to produce a written proposal explaining their assessment of the opportunities to intervene in the system and recommendations for actions to conserve and increase pollinators.

The block consists of 2 parts:

3.1 - Site Scale: Uncommon Ground (30 minutes)

  1. Have students gather into the same groups they worked in for the prior blocks.
  2. Inform students that they will need to use today’s work in class for the individual paper assignment; thus, each student should take notes for reference outside of class.
  3. Ask students to read the next portion of Jen’s story and follow instructions in the student handout. (15 minutes)
a.       Instructions to students:
    1. Using the research you did outside of class on native pollinators, develop a list of recommendations for Jen based on your knowledge of what crops each bee pollinates, its habitat preferences, and foraging distances. Each group will turn in one copy of its recommendations at the end of class. Be sure to include the following:
                                                               i.      Target pollinator (i.e., which bee?)
                                                             ii.      Actions Jen can take to conserve or increase this pollinator’s presence in the garden
                                                            iii.      Rationale for why these actions makes sense based on what you know about this pollinator
    1. As a group discuss:
                                                               i.      Will these actions be sufficient to reach Jen’s goal of increasing pollinators in the garden? Why or why not? Reference your system map to answer these questions.
  1. Ask students to report out from discussion of final question. Have all groups report at once by writing their answer - Yes or No - on a piece of paper and showing it for all to see. Then discuss as a full class why students responded as they did. Students might explain, for example, that Jen manages only a small area of garden space and could have greater impact on pollinator populations through management over a larger area of land. Or they might suggest that Jen can grow as many plants as possible to attract pollinators, but if others in her neighborhood are using pesticides (e.g., on lawns, golf courses) that harm bees, then her efforts might not succeed. Emphasize the concepts of systems, nestedness, and scale. (5 minutes)
  2. Introduce concept of “stakeholder” and procedure for “stakeholder analysis” using the lecture slides and speaking notes provided (“BeeCase_B3_ClassPowerPoint_Stakeholder Analysis.pptx”). (10 minutes)

3.2 - Larger Scales: Rogers Park Neighborhood and Chicago Region (45 minutes)

1.       In their groups, students conduct a stakeholder analysis. Designate half of the groups to focus on the neighborhood scale (Rogers Park) and the other half to focus on the regional scale. Hand out a Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet to each student, which he or she should take notes on for later reference. Each group should also reproduce the chart on chalkboard, white board, or newsprint large enough for full class to see and record their work there. (5 minutes)
2.       Students articulate the goal(s), identify stakeholders, estimate attitudes and influence, determine level of confidence in these estimates, and develop strategies for involving priority stakeholders. Encourage students to reference their system maps in identifying stakeholders and strategies/actions. (15 minutes)
3.       Post all group’s completed work simultaneously and allow ~2 minutes for students to review all charts. Then discuss as a full class. Encourage students to add details on their individual worksheets based on other group’s charts and this discussion. Multiple groups likely will have identified some similar stakeholders and strategies. Begin discussion with the far left column, Stakeholders, and focus on differences between groups. For example, if one student group identified community gardeners (or local schools or the Alderperson) as a stakeholder in the neighborhood and other groups did not, ask whether other groups overlooked this stakeholder or did not think that it constitutes a stakeholder in pollinator conservation. Then move the discussion’s focus to the far right column, Strategies, and ask a group to explain why they proposed a specific strategy. In providing their logic or rationale, students should reference their columns estimating Attitude and Influence. Examples of strategies include coordinated management (e.g., multiple community gardens growing plants to attract pollinators), education (e.g., outreach to other gardeners and land managers), planning (e.g., city plans for natural areas and open space), land use (e.g., protecting and restoring native habitats), or advocating for policy changes (e.g., restrictions on pesticides). Ask if other groups agree/disagree with their assessment, why or why not, etc. Finally, ask students for their opinions regarding the likely impact of different strategies. Which are most likely to succeed in the short-term? Over the long-term? Why? Emphasize that different strategies are needed over different temporal scales. (15 minutes)
4.       Wrap up the discussion by reiterating key ideas: concept of scale, nestedness of systems, definition of stakeholder, process of stakeholder analysis (5 minutes)
5.       Provide instructions (“BeeCase_B3_Student Paper Assignment.docx”) for assignment to write a proposal with recommendations for Jen. This assignment is to be completed by each individual student outside of class and due in 1 week. (5 minutes)

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
International Pollinator’s Initiative, Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations
BeeSpotter, University of Illinois (citizen science project)
The Great Sunflower Project (citizen science project)
U.S. Climate Change Research Program (2009), Climate Change in the Midwest, http://nca2009.globalchange.gov/midwest
Dick, B. 1997. Stakeholder Analysis [Online]. Available at http://www.uq.net.au/action_research/arp/stake.html.
Forrest and Thomson (2011), An examination of synchrony between insect emergence and flowering in Rocky Mountain meadows, Ecological Monographs, 81(3), 2011, pp. 469–491.
McKinney and Inouye (2012), Phenology of species interactions in response to climate change: two case studies of plant-pollinator interactions using long-term data, 2012 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 3-7 Dec.
Spivak, M., Mader, E., Vaughan, M., and Euliss, Jr., N. H. 2011. The plight of the bees. Environmental Science and Technology 45:34-38.
Steltzer et al. (2012), When Snow Melts Early: The Unusual Alpine Plant Life Histories During the Summer of 2012, 2012 Fall Meeting AGU, San Francisco, CA 3-7 Dec.
Xerces Society (2011), Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting America’s Bees and Butterflies. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.


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