The Medford/Somerville campus became a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate and the first urban Bee Campus in Massachusetts on April 3, with the help of the Tufts Pollinator Initiative (TPI), a collaborative effort of students and faculty committed to supporting pollinators on campus.
Bee Campus USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, is a program that brings colleges and universities together around pollinator conservation. Tufts joins 97 other universities around the nation united in sustaining habitats for pollinators.
As a Bee Campus, Tufts has pledged to a variety of commitments that ensure a dedication to pollinator conservation. These commitments, which have been carried out by TPI, include the creation of pollinator habitats on campus and community outreach efforts that aim to raise awareness about pollinators.
Last spring and fall, TPI planted native pollinator gardens on campus at three locations: one outside of Tisch Library, one near 574 Boston Ave. and one outside of Barnum Hall.
“Those gardens are the hallmark of the Tufts Pollinator Initiative in that they’re super visible on campus,” TPI Media Coordinator Rachael Bonoan said.
The gardens serve as food resources for a diverse range of pollinators, with plants and flowers that bloom from May through October, according to TPI Committee Chair Nicholas Dorian.
“Providing flowers throughout the year ensures that we’re not only benefiting species that need them all year long, but that there are no gaps in the species that we’re protecting,” Dorian, a third-year graduate student in the Department of Biology, said.
Last summer, TPI observed monarch butterflies laying eggs in the gardens, highlighting one example of the increasing pollinator diversity on campus, thanks to the gardens.
“That means we’ll have monarch caterpillars, and they develop into butterflies, and then we’ll have more monarch butterflies on campus, which obviously everybody loves monarchs. They’re great, charismatic pollinators,” Bonoan, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Biology, said.
“People will be noticing the pollinators more and stopping to look and take a moment, which is always fun,” Bonoan said.
TPI has also created large signs to be installed at the gardens so viewers can learn about pollinators and what kind of resources they need.
TPI has promoted community awareness for pollinators at many events such as Tufts Community Day, Earth Fest and on-campus workshops, reaching over 2,000 people within one year.
To achieve their goals, TPI received funding from the Tufts Green Fund, which awards a total of $40,000 to sustainability projects proposed by members of the Tufts community.
“The Green Fund really gave us the opportunity to do all these kinds of events and reach out,” Bonoan said.
Social distancing restrictions have not stopped TPI from continuing outreach, which is now taking place mostly online. TPI is working on a YouTube channel for educational videos about pollinators.
“We also have a planting guide on our website that people can download and use to plant their own pollinator gardens in urban areas,” Bonoan said. “Helping pollinators right now is something that can definitely be done in your own backyard.”
TPI is also working on surveying pollinator biodiversity on campus and has created an iNaturalist Project where users can log data points to continue the documentation of the insects they are supporting.
“We hope that members of the community will be able to go to our gardens and record insects they see, whether there is a butterfly or a bee, and share with us their sightings,” Dorian said.
Bonoan also reflected on the wider impact that Tufts will have as a certified Bee Campus.
“We are the first urban campus in Massachusetts to be a certified Bee Campus, so what we’re really hoping for is to set a precedent,” Bonoan said. “We hope that facilities from different campuses can pick up our planting guides and know what to plant for pollinators.”
Molly Martin, Bee City USA coordinator, agreed that Tufts is acting as a role model for other campuses in urban areas by becoming a Bee Campus.
“There’s quite a bit of pollinator conservation going on in more rural areas, but people don’t think so much about urban areas, and that’s a huge area where we can be increasing pollinator conservation,” Martin said.
Martin added that campuses offer particularly valuable opportunities for pollinator conservation.
“Campuses are a perfect place because they manage usually quite large grounds, and they have the initiative to change the way that those are managed,” Martin said.
In fact, despite the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge in campuses signing up with Bee Campus USA to become certified, according to Martin.
“Preserving pollinators is growing in interest among citizens of urban areas, but there’s still a lot to be done,” Dorian said.
One main barrier to the development of pollinator-friendly habitats is the notion that they can be messy and uncared for, but TPI is working to correct the misconception.
“We do want to encourage and demonstrate that gardening for pollinators can [be], and often is, aesthetically pleasing,” Dorian said.
Looking towards the future, TPI plans to continue engaging in public outreach events and maintaining the gardens in order for Tufts to keep up its certification as a Bee Campus.
“The gardens on campus are primed and ready to go. There’s already plants sprouting,” Dorian said. “Those blooms will be appreciated by pollinators this year, and in future years.”