© Jones et al/eLife under CC BY 4.0
We live in a world where we’re recognizing and discovering an ever-more complex and interwoven web of life—this vast ecology of our planet. We can see that life has taken many different routes to find success, and we call these paths ‘kingdoms’: animal, plant, fungui, protist, archaea, and bacteria. While we belong to and often focus on the first kingdom—that of animals—we are at what is only the beginning of discovery of the benefits we can reap from those in the last kingdom; we can harness the potential of bacteria to our good.
I want to tell you all about the bacterial genus Streptomyces. The genus is noted for the scent of their spores. You know that smell after a rain? That’s ‘petrichor’, ancient Greek for ‘rock’ and ‘ethereal blood of the gods.’ This smell is from a mix of compounds, but a significant contributor is geosmin, itself a by-product of the hydrophobic spores atop the aerial growth of this filamentous bacteria are launched from the earth with the force of raindrops striking the ground. The average human nose is incredibly sensitive to this chemical; we’re able to notice it as faintly as three parts-per-trillion—like a single drop in 40 Olympic swimming pools! Geosmin is also the reason we like the smell of freshly-dug earth, and it’s responsible if there’s a ‘muddy’ taste in your fish.
But there’s plenty more to love than just a pleasant smell. Most of its many, varied species are found living in soils the world over. They are commonly aerobic and produce exudates which resemble mycelium-like networks throughout the substrate in which they live. These exudates and the volatile organic compounds they off-gas are created in a category called secondary metabolites.
By Anne van der Meij, Joost Willemse, Martinus A. Schneijderberg, René Geurts, Jos M. Raaijmakers & Gilles P. van Wezel - doi:10.1007/s10482-018-1014-z, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94443322
Living organisms create secondary metabolites as interactions with their environment. These compounds are not strictly required for survival. Sometimes called ‘relational’ or ‘ecological’ interactions, because it’s facilitating the meeting of the lifeform with the greater world. Contrast this to primary metabolites, which are required for growth, development, and reproduction.
How Streptomyces offers such tremendous potential
- The great genetic variety it holds as the most populous genus in its phylum, with more than 700 species cataloged thus far. There are even species which rank among the longest genomic strands in all the bacterial kingdom: S. violaceoruber with 8.7 million base-pairs (Mbp) and S. scabiei at a whopping 10.1 Mbp.
- Add to this the knowledge that Bacteria have more protein-coding genes from Eukaryotes, and that that gulf widens as genomes lengthen, and we find a very complex and active set of organisms.
- A final point to the activity of the Streptomyces genome: it averages 12% of its protein-encoding genes dedicated to secondary metabolite production, a “high proportion” when compared to the rest of the kingdom (Nikolaidis et al., 2023). This all paints a picture of Streptomyces having a strong ability to affect the world around it.
Global focus on the genus
The discovery which launched Streptomyces into global focus was the creation of streptomycin, an antibiotic which helped treat tuberculosis. This compound was isolated from S. griseus in 1943 and won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1952. Various extracts and synthetizations from this genus have focused on the antimicrobial properties and their application both for human health as well as pesticidal controls for use in agricultural production.
However, the global zeitgeist of our time is beginning to focus our attention inwards, to examine what we might do to change our bodies from within to better fit their environment without. Of notable interest is what’s been termed our ‘microbiome,’ all the various microscopic life inhabiting our very bodies. We’ve already scoured the genetic potential of Streptomyces for over 100,000 applications of reducing harmful microbial activity in humans and for agricultural chemicals (Alam et al., 2022). What if there is still more to be gained from this genus, and what if the methods might be different than laboratories and synthesized extracts?
Environmental interactions between microbes & humans
Exposure to different environments and inputs can change the various microbiomes in our bodies. We know the gut microbiome is tremendously affected by both temporary and long-term dietary options (Leeming et al., 2019).
Scientific experiments continue to investigate what effects various environmental exposures have on human health. In particular, investigations into affecting the microbiome on human skin are still ongoing. Our skin interacts with the world before and one behalf of all our other organs, and so might hold great potential for affecting reactions or purposeful changes to each of our skin’s microbiomes.
One recent study (Mhuireach et al., 2022) hypothesized that the hands of gardeners would be a likely place for soil-to-skin transfer of microbial populations. Complications, including hand-washing, confound the issue. But they did find Streptomyces among the top ten most abundant genera found in urban garden sample soils! The authors go on to emphasize the importance of soil/skin contact, citing Roslund et al. (2020) who found that biodiverse playgrounds improved children’s health and immune-function. Such findings reinforce efforts— at to get children outside and interacting with curated, natural play environments.
And now, you can carry on with your day knowing you’ve got about as much breadth of knowledge of Streptomyces as possible without beginning to delve into specific species. Thanks for reading!
What is the Portland Bee Guide?
This month has seen the release of the Portland Bee Guide! This guide was a collaborative project among many different members of the Garden Ecology Lab, along with numerous others inside and outside Oregon State University. Our goal for the project was relatively simple: create an accessible guide to Portland bees. If you haven’t already, click here to download the Portland Bee Guide. It contains species descriptions of 67 bee species found in Portland, OR, gardens (including the ones seen below!), and the accompanying iNaturalist guide (click here) contains photos and interactive functional trait filters for each species. Read on for bonus content, not included in the bee guide or in the social media campaign we ran to promote the guide earlier in recent weeks.
This blog will also serve as an access point to the social media content, for those not on Instagram or Facebook. The social media campaign contained three sets of posts: one focused on floral resources for bees, another on nesting sites for bees, and the final was a feature of some of the Portland bee-friendly gardeners.
Making the Guide
Most of my time spent on the guide happened in my home, which is my preferred work space (it helps that a cat is included). Specifically, a table on the same back patio where I grew up spending time with my family in the outdoors as I was growing up. When I entered graduate school, the sampling in Portland gardens was already finished—so many people had contributed to this project before I ever knew it existed. The main thing that inspired me to work in science communication was the opportunity to serve as a liaison between the academic sphere and the public sphere. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with people, and was parented by scientists who valued their work in Extension programs.
The back patio, where I spent much of my time this past summer working on the bee guide.
Because so much of my work took place on my computer, far removed from the soil, forage, and buzzing bees of Portland, I knew I wanted to make visiting some of the gardens a priority. This would allow me to have a deeper understanding of the guide itself prior to its release, as well as to take photographs and interview some of the gardeners who hosted diverse bee communities in their backyard. I completed my visits in June 2023, and got a chance to talk with gardeners about their successes, setbacks, motivations, and more. Let’s look at some of these gardens!
Our 3 Featured Gardeners
Pascal: “Small and mighty”
Pascal’s garden is in Northeast Portland. He lives just off a busy street, so his main goal when creating his garden was privacy. I was inspired by Pascal’s eye for design—his garden, to me, was the definition of maximizing space. He has created a layered effect, with winding pathways, designated sections for food crops and ornamental plantings, but everything blended seamlessly. Though I could tell from the road that Pascal’s garden was going to be quite something, while I was inside it felt like I was in on a secret: here I was, in a secluded refuge.
I asked Pascal!
What is the biggest challenge you deal with in your garden? “My biggest challenge is keeping the garden healthy and thriving during dry stretches of weather, which seem to be getting longer each year. I use soaker hoses throughout the garden and run them once a week, but during extreme heat and dry weather over the last few summers, the stress on the plants is obvious. I’m now running them more often, and this year, earlier than in previous years. More water means a bigger water bill, but it’s better than losing established plants to drought. When I do lose plants, I now plant replacements that are native and more drought tolerant.”
What has been your biggest gardening success? “My biggest gardening success has been transitioning this yard, that was basically lawn and a few trees, into a biodiversity hotspot with almost 80 species of plants stuffed into a small space. All those plants now provide a lush green wall that blocks out some of the noise and business of our urban location. They also provide shelter and forage year-round for a variety of birds, insects (including pollinators), a few small mammals and even a lost cat, who we were able to rehome.”
What is your favorite spot in the garden? “My favorite spot in the garden is under the canopy created by a series of overlapping trees that create a cool, shaded area over the lawn. It’s the perfect spot to sit on a hot day and face out towards the surrounding gardens and see all the activity that is going on with birds, bees, and other insects moving around. The yard is still noisy, but sitting under those trees feels peaceful.”
Pascal and my father, Neil (also a retired Community Horticulturist for Oregon State), talking about plants in Pascal’s urban refuge. I love this photo because you can get a feel for the layered effect that this garden has. The variety of foliage textures makes the space feel welcoming, cozy, and vibrant.
Bob: “A bee’s urban paradise”
I visited Bob, along with a fellow Master Gardener, Cathy, at the Multnomah County Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden. This garden is open to the public, and Bob made is clear that visitors are welcome. Visitors are free to come walk around the garden, which is not limited to pollinator-oriented spaces. Other gardeners focus on food crops, ornamental plantings—there’s even a willow tunnel to walk under. The garden is beautiful, and worth a stroll-through if you’re in the area. It was such a joy to talk with both of them—their passion for both pollinators and gardening was tangible, and his interest in learning more about the bees he was seeing in his plot was inspiring.
Bob and Cathy standing next to their sign at the Multnomah County Demonstration Garden. If you’re in the Portland area, take a visit! It’s open to the public, and they were both wonderful to talk to.
The number of active pollinators here was astounding! Many of my now-favorite bee photos came from my visit to Bob’s garden. Male long-horned and leaf-cutter bees snoozing inside California poppy, Agapostemon (“green bees”) on Gaillardia, and bumble bees abounded during my midday visit. Many of those bees are pictured in our social media campaign, which will be included below.
I asked Bob!
What is the biggest challenge you deal with in your garden? “Unwanted plants. However, we have developed management strategies to deal with them. We plant very densely and layer plants vertically; we also tolerate some ‘weeds’.”
What has been your biggest gardening success? “Over time, Master Gardener colleagues—some of whom initially looked askance at what we were doing—have come to appreciate the aesthetic of our plantings. While some still wouldn’t garden the way we do, they now recognize that there’s a method to our madness.”
Where is your favorite spot in the garden? “I enjoy standing at the intersection of the steppingstone pathways, where I feel engulfed by vegetation.”
Sherry: “A suburban oasis”
Sherry is a long-time supporter of the lab, and follower of our research. One of my favorite parts of her garden is her planting of Douglas aster and goldenrod, which she was inspired to plant based on Dr. Aaron Anderson’s research, a past GEL lab member. The plating overlooks the Willamette River. I included this quote in the social media campaign, but I can’t help from including it here too: “Growing together, both receive more pollinator visits than they would if they were growing alone. It’s a testable hypothesis; it’s a question of science, a question of art, and a question of beauty.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, from Braiding Sweetgrass.
Something I admire about Sherry’s garden is how she incorporates both native plants, and also plants that are important or special to her. It reminds me of my childhood garden growing up, planted and cared for by my parents, both horticulturists. I remember being surrounded by vegetation on our back patio, which was one of the first places I ever experienced the natural world up close.
I asked Sherry!
What is the biggest challenge you deal with in your garden? “Leaving unwanted and unmulched ground for nesting bees is hard for me. Bare ground goes against my nature!”
Sherry has done a wonderful job of incorporating more patches of bare soil into her garden: these spots are perfect for ground-nesting bees!
What has been your biggest gardening success? “A bee garden starring Douglas aster and goldenrod, two natives that tested well in the Garden Ecology Lab research. I added Allium, Emerus, rose, Persicaria, Phlox, Verbascum, and a Vitex for diversity and to extend bloom time.”
Where is your favorite spot in your garden? “I favor areas where there is a place to pause and reflect: an alcove off the driveway affords a scene of raised beds against a coral-colored wall, a bench surrounded by a circle of Phlomis offers expansive views of the pollinator garden, and a second-story deck gives a bird’s eye view of colorful shrubs and perennials below.”
Sherry standing next to the Phlomis in her June garden. This is one of her favorite spots to pause and admire the work she has put into this space. I can see why!
Social media content lives here, too!
Above: the set of slides included in our first post, which focused on floral resources for bees.
Above: the set of slides for our second post, which covered nesting sites for bees.
Above: the third and final post in our social media campaign, featuring Portland gardeners Pascal, Bob, and Sherry!
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to tune in over the past month. Take some downtime during our rainy Oregon winter to familiarize yourself with the written guide PDF (downloadable here) and the online interactive iNaturalist guide (click here), so you’re ready for all our Portland bees next spring!
Do you have questions about the guide? I am more than happy to chat with you! Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
In the recent blog post “The Controversy Surrounding ‘No Mow May”, Dr. Langellotto explores the lack of good science supporting the idea of giving your lawn a month-long break from being mowed. Despite the scientific controversy, “No-mow May” is an idea that has taken off. It is simple and makes people feel good about helping pollinators, while also doing less yard work. At its best, it may indeed work in some places, for some people, to help some pollinators for a month…but what about the rest of the year?
A month of neglecting your lawn might allow flowers to bloom, depending on what grows in your lawn besides grass. These may well attract pollinators – but the untended expanse may also fool various creatures into thinking they have a safe place to nest, pupate, and burrow. What happens to them when the mowing starts again? Bees and butterflies can fly away to other flowers, but less-mobile creatures may be killed or displaced.
It’s also questionable whether this method reduces yard work at all. A lawn grown long and lush in peak growing season – and which may be wet from spring rains as well – will be very difficult to mow after a month. So at best, “No-mow May” provides a very short-term benefit, and may cause more problems than it solves.
Are there other routes to a low-maintenance pollinator paradise?
Definitely! As Gail concluded, a pollinator garden provides year-round support to pollinators, without the disruption of intermittent mowing. If you want detailed information on creating a pollinator garden in the PNW, and what to plant in it, here’s a good resource to get you started: “Enhancing Urban and Suburban Landscapes to Protect Pollinators”, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pub/em-9289-enhancing-urban-suburban-landscapes-protect-pollinators.
But maybe you aren’t able to devote a whole garden to pollinators. Maybe you just have a little bit of space. How about planting just a few strategic plants?
Certain types of plants are pollinator powerhouses. They tend to attract a wide variety of pollinators. Some are food plants for many different native butterfly and moth caterpillars. The best bloom for a long time, offering their bounty for up to several months. To extend the bloom season even more, plant several varieties of the same species, with varying bloom times, or multiple related species.
Include a few of these in any landscape and you will benefit many pollinators. Choose natives when you can, and choose at least one species from each family or general category.
Pollinator Powerhouse starter list
In western Oregon, you could do worse than start with the Garden Ecology Lab’s Top 10 Oregon Native Plants for Pollinators (https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/category/top-10-plants-for-pollinators/) and their relatives. (Top-10 are in bold below).
Aster family (Asteraceae) – Daisies or Composites.
A huge family with many pollinator favorites. Here are just a few.
Achillea millefolium (yarrow)
Anaphalis margaritacea (pearly everlasting) NOT for a well-fed and watered area, or it can become invasive
Eriophyllum lanatum (Common woolly sunflower)
Solidago spp. (goldenrod) – Plant Native S. canadensis (Canada goldenrod), miniature S. ‘Little Lemon’, and late and showy S. ‘Fireworks’ for a really long season of bloom! Be aware that most tend to spread by seed, and the birds won’t eat all the seed. Seedlings are easy to pull, though, if you don’t want too many.
Symphyotrichum/Aster – Tall native S. subspicatum (Douglas aster) or short native S. hallii (Hall’s aster), miniature S. ‘Woods Blue’, and many others.
Also: Echinacea (coneflower), Erigeron (fleabane), Helenium (sneezeweed – for treating sneezes, not causing them), Helianthus (perennial sunflowers), Inula, and many more.
Mint family (Lamiaceae)
Another really big family almost universally attractive to pollinators. Includes Agastache spp. (anise hyssop, hummingbird mint), Calamintha nepeta (calamint), Caryopteris x incana (bluebeard – a small shrub), Monarda didyma (bee balm), Salvias, and herbs rosemary, mint, basil, oregano, and thyme, among others.
Both the low groundcover Sedums and the tall, fall-blooming Hylotelephiums like ‘Autumn Joy’ are pollinator magnets , though often you will only see honeybees mobbing them.
Alliums – Any kind
There are spring, summer and fall bloomers – plant some of each, mixed in with other pollinator plants. Late spring to summer is the main Allium season, with dozens of kinds available. For late summer and fall try Allium tuberosum (Garlic Chives), Allium cernuum (nodding onion), a NW native, and Allium thunbergii ‘Ozawa’ (Ozawa Japanese onion) for the very end of autumn.
Many annuals will bloom straight through the season until frost.
Alyssum, Clarkia amoena (Farewell-to-spring), Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) (mostly annual), Fagopyrum esculentum (Buckwheat) – a great cover crop, pollinators love it, and you can harvest the seeds to eat or let it self-sow; Gilia capitata (globe gilia), Limnanthes douglasii (NW native), Madia elegans (common madia), Phacelia heterophylla (Varileaf phacelia).
To make sure your pollinator powerhouse plants thrive and bloom for a long time, make sure to give them good growing conditions.
• Soil should be reasonably good (though not excessively fertilized, which can cause pest-attracting lush growth and fewer flowers).
• They should have full to half-day sun in most areas.
• Even native plants appreciate some water during dry summer months, otherwise they will go dormant.
• Grouping these plants together can make care easier – voila, a pollinator garden! – but they can be tucked into any available spot as long as their needs are met. Even a vegetable garden!
Study: Native Plants & Native Cultivars: Understanding Pollinator Preference for Native Plants and their Cultivated Counterparts in the Pacific Northwest
Thank you for your interest our survey! We are done collecting survey responses at this time. If you previously took the survey and have any questions, please direct them to Gail.Langellotto@oregonstate.edu and/or Jen.Hayes@oregonstate.edu.
This article was written for the regular column that I submit to the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO) Quarterly Magazine. I am grateful to the team at HPSO for their editorial skills and feedback, that always improve what I write.
No Mow May is an initiative that was started in 2019 by Plantlife, a non-profit that works to restore meadow habitats in the United Kingdom. Their annual campaign called on garden owners and greenspace managers to cease mowing in the month of May, in order to move lawn-dominated yards towards a more natural approach. The movement quickly spread to other regions of the globe, as an easy and feel-good measure that almost any land manager could take to promote biodiversity and protect pollinators. In the United States, Bee City USA adopted the No Mow May campaign, which they also refer to as Mow Less Spring, as a way to conserve native pollinators.
There is some science to support the notion that less-intensely managed lawns benefits biodiversity. Our lab group even wrote about it in a blog post on No Mow May, including sharing a meta-analysis of 14 studies from North America and Europe showed that plant diversity and invertebrate diversity increased in lawns, as mowing intensity decreased . However, several studies included in this review had mowing treatments that are not generally practical for most residential yards. Some studies compared lawns mowed once per week to lawns that were mowed once per year, for example. One of the few studies that compared mowing frequencies that approximate real world conditions was conducted in Springfield, Massachusetts . In this study, Dr. Susannah Lermann and colleagues compared bee abundance and diversity from yards mowed every week, every two weeks, and every three weeks. Lawns mowed every three weeks had 2.5X more lawn flowers than other lawns. Interestingly, lawns mowed every two weeks had the highest bee abundance, but lowest bee species richness. The authors speculate that the higher grass height of the three-week mowed lawns covered lawn flowers, and made them less accessible to many bees. The higher lawn height also made the three-week mowed lawns less acceptable to nearby neighbors, leading the authors to suggest that a ‘two-week regime might reconcile homeowner ideas with pollinator habitat’.
That brings us back to No Mow May, and whether or not there is science to support the idea that not mowing for an entire month might benefit pollinators. In 2020 (soon after the start and spread of No Mow May) Del Toro and Ribbons published a paper that suggested that households that observed No Mow May had three times more bee species and five times higher bee abundance than spaces that were regularly mowed . The results were highlighted in a New York Times story , and resulted in a change in the City of Appleton code that suspended an 8” lawn height restriction for the month of May, via a 6-3 split vote for and against the resolution . Israel Del Toro, lead author of the study, was elected to Appleton’s Common Council, soon after leading the effort to adopt the resolution. By 2022, an additional 25 U.S. cities had followed suit , with their own declarations in support of No Mow May.
As the No Mow May movement grew, so did controversy surrounding the Del Toro and Ribbons study. Bee taxonomist Zach Portman noted serious issues with the bees identified in the study. Horticulture Professor Bert Cregg noted that the study was confounded, by comparing home lawns that were not mowed to park spaces that were mowed. With this experimental design, it is impossible for the authors to disentangle the effects of mowing (e.g. mowed or not mowed) from the effects of habitat type (e.g. home lawn versus park). In November of 2022, the authors retracted their study ‘after finding several potential inconsistencies in data handling and reporting’. After the retraction, the City of Appleton considered a resolution to eliminate No Mow May, claiming that the program lacks scientific backing. However, this resolution did not pass .
What is a science-informed gardener to do, amidst confusing and sometimes conflicting messaging related to pollinator conservation in a yard? First, note that science self-corrects, when the system works well. Retractions are part of that corrective process. Second, remember that bees can be found in lawn areas, particularly if lawns are less managed. The Lermann study demonstrated that lawns can host a surprising richness of bee species: 72, 60, and 62 bee species, in lawns mowed every week, two weeks, or three weeks, respectively. Note that to be part of this study, homeowners had to agree to not use herbicides or irrigation, during the length of the study. As a result of reduced management, lawns in this study often had bare patches that might be good nesting habitat for soil-nesting bees. Relaxing your mowing regime to every 1-2 weeks is supported by good science. Stowing your mower for an entire month is not. Finally, if you want to manage your yard for pollinators, planning and planting a pollinator garden is likely to net more species than stowing your mower. Indeed, many critics of the No Mow May movement, including native plant advocate Doug Tallamy, suggest that providing a temporary safe haven, regardless of its length of time, is counterproductive for pollinators and other wildlife it was meant to benefit. We currently have a paper in review, addressing this very topic. I look forward to sharing the highlights with readers, once it is published.
 Journal of Applied Ecology 57: 436-446
 Biological Conservation 221: 160-174
 PeerJ 8:e10021
 New York Times, March 28, 2022.
 Appleton Common Council resolution and vote, April 1, 2020.
 NBC 26 Local News, April 22, 2022.
 Post Crescent, April 10, 2023.
This note comes from our collaborator at the University of Oregon, Dr. Gwynne Mhuireach. Dr. Mhuireach previously worked with our lab and local gardeners to document soil microbial communities, and the extent to which the act of gardening transfers soil microbes to gardeners’ skin ~ thus affecting the skin microbiome!
At the conclusion of the skin microbiome study, many gardeners asked for more information on how gardening affects the gut microbiome. Dr. Mhuireach received USDA funding to conduct a pilot study, to address this question. Gardeners in Linn and Lane Counties are specifically invited to apply.
The deadline to apply to participate in this NEW study is August 15th.
We are seeking healthy adult gardeners to engage in a research study exploring microbiota of fresh fruits and vegetables from gardens and supermarkets, and their potential to influence the gut microbiome. To be eligible, you must be between the ages of 18–45, be fluent in English, live in Lane or Linn County, and have access to a garden that can provide enough fruits and vegetables for the diet intervention. Participants will receive $50 at the beginning of the study, $50 upon completion, and a $75 allowance to purchase supermarket fruits and vegetables.
Study activities: If you participate, you will be asked to undergo two week-long diet intervention periods during which you will eat the USDA-recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. In one period all of the produce should be sourced from your garden and in the other the same produce should be sourced from a supermarket. You will be also asked to pre-plan your meals for the intervention periods, complete a Lifestyle, Health, & Diet Questionnaire, maintain a Daily Fruit & Vegetable Log, collect samples of all the fruits and vegetables you eat, collect stool (fecal) samples, and collect a tapwater sample. The total duration of participation is 24 days, with an expected average time commitment of 20–30 minutes per day.
Potential risks: Participants will be exposed to microorganisms from garden and supermarket produce, however, this exposure occurs during normal daily life. There is also a risk that privacy or confidentiality could be breached, though precautions will be taken to avoid such breaches.
Benefits: There are no direct benefits to participating in this study.
To see if you are eligible, please use this Qualtrics link (https://oregon.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9Gn0UOtZEbzWEh8) to take a brief screening survey. More information is available at www.gffstudy.com.
On the last day of pride month, I read an article that brought me to tears: Can Entomology Emerge as a Role Model Field of Study for LGBTQ+ Inclusion and Visibility? by Michael C. Cavallaro. This year has been extremely difficult for the LGBTQ+ community, and to read about the successes and progress made in my field towards LGBTQ+ inclusion warmed my heart and gave me hope for my fellow queer bug lovers.
Before we dive in to the article, I want to share why this topic is important to me. I identify as a queer entomologist in two ways: 1) I am queer and I am an entomologist, and 2) I am interested in the ways that entomology expands and defies western understanding and expression of gender. The natural world, especially insects, teaches us that queerness is inherently natural and expressed in diverse ways.
Image description: An intersex bee from the genus Agapostemon. The right side presents characteristics that typify a female Agapostemon: green metallic abdomen, robust legs with pollen carrying hairs, shorter, thicker antennal segments. The left side presents male characteristics, including a yellow and black striped abdomen, yellow legs with fewer hairs, and elongated antennal segments.
Cavallaro begins the article discussing “Shared Traits: Entomologists and LGBTQ+ Folks” by Rae Olsson, which mirrors many conversations I have had with my fellow queer entomologists. Us folks who grow up chasing, collecting, and admiring insects tend to be viewed as weird, odd, or even outcasts. Queer folks are often far too familiar with the feeling of being marginalized, othered, and at odds with society. But, there is an odd comfort in knowing that you are a weirdo studying something weird.
The article continues, noting the advances that ESA (The Entomological Society of America) has made in providing an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ folks and elevating their voices. We have seen these advances in the form of inviting people to include their pronouns on the annual event badges, introducing symposia on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues, and removing states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws from potential future meeting locations. He also points out recently identified insects that have been bestowed names of queer icons, which I wrote about during last year’s pollinator week post.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A Cowpea weevil, which has long antennae and brown and white spots on its elytra. female cowpea weevils are known to mount other female cowpea weevils. Photo © Gene H on iNaturalist.
Cavallaro reports that 7.2% percent of ESA members have identified themselves as LGBTQ+, which reflects the U.S. national average. He notes that STEM still has many barriers to overcome as it is “rooted in a competitive and heteronormative culture” and “workspaces for queer-spectrum STEM professionals and students can be unsupportive and exclusionary.” Both STEM and entomology still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance, encouragement, and representation of queer folks.
As someone who attended a prestigious field entomology program and was called a “disney princess” on the first day, I can attest to the flippancy with which queer folks and femme-presenting folks are often treated in professional entomological spaces. It is, however, validating to witness the largest entomological organization in the U.S. taking the time to address, welcome, and better their ability to support their LGBTQ+ membership.
What is an ecolawn?
An ecological lawn, or ecolawn, is a reduced input alternative to a conventional mowed grass lawn. While numerous possibilities for an ecolawn exist, they all include multiple low-growing herbaceous plants that work well together and require less mowing, fertilizer and irrigation. In addition to reducing maintenance and resource utilization, they also provide important habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Help us find examples!
We are looking for examples of beautiful ecolawns throughout western Oregon. A few requirements:
- Includes 3 or more different herbaceous broadleaf plants; additional grasses optional
- Mutually compatible and ecologically stable when grown together
- Installed for 2+ years (Spring 2021 or earlier)
- All or most plants less than 1 foot in height
- Looks good all year (and most of your neighbors would agree that it looks good 😊)
- Needs little to no water to stay green through dry summer months
- Little mowing (once per month to once per year)
- Little or no fertilizer and no pesticides following installation
We want to find, understand and share your (or your neighbor’s) ecolawn. Ecolawns are part of a more sustainable future for Oregon. If you have a good example, please email 2-3 photos and contact information to Dr. Phil Allen, Visiting Professor in Horticulture at Oregon State University: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi, everyone! My name is Kailey Legier and I am an undergraduate student pursuing a double-degree in Soil Science and Sustainability. I have joined the OSU Garden Ecology Lab as a field and lab research assistant! I jumped at the opportunity to join this lab because it aligned so well with what I’m passionate about: sustainable urban horticulture, insects, and learning.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, just about three and a half hours north of Corvallis, and from an early age I was a big fan of creepy-crawlers. Baby-Kailey could often be found toting around a plastic critter keeper full of insects that she had indiscriminately caught and dug up.
Now, as an adult, I remain a big fan of insects of all kinds and an advocate for nurturing a childlike sense of wonder for the natural world in both myself and my community. I believe that the feeling of rich, damp soil between your fingers, the tickle of a lady beetle traversing the landscape of your arm, and the sound of native pollinators buzzing through your home garden are imperative pieces to the study of garden ecology. In my spare time, I grow flowers with a specific interest in perennial cut flower beds and bulb flowers.
My research interests include subsoil insect diversity, soil health, and the family Carabidae — the ground beetles! There is something amazing about knowing the soil is full of curious little critters working full time jobs eating pests, chomping on weed seeds, and churning the soil slowly but surely.
Aside from hard science pursuits, I am invested in social equity and sustainability at Oregon State. I am a big fan of attending town halls and being politically active on sustainability and ecological issues.
I am so excited to join this lab as it serves as a confluence for quite a few of my interests and passions. I am surrounded by incredible people each day, and it is a huge honor to be able to glean knowledge from them and gain experience in this setting.
You are what you eat. This phrase can be traced back to an 1826 essay by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’ Diet and health are inextricably linked for almost all animals, including bees.
Bees foraging from flowering plants obtain carbohydrates from nectar. Pollen provides protein, fats, and vitamins. While the quantity of food is provided by the abundance of floral plantings, the quality of food is determined by the diversity of floral plantings. This is because different flowering plants offer different nutrients to bees’ diets. And, different bees have different nutritional requirements that vary among species, or that vary across life stages of a single species. For example, mason bee larvae (Osmia bicornis) larvae performed best on carbohydrate rich diets. Fluctuations in protein made little different to bee health, but carbohydrate deficiencies slowed mason bee larval growth and reduced survival[i]. Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) foragers select foods that provide a target mix of 71% proteins, 6% carbohydrates, and 23% lipids[ii].
Diverse floral plantings also help to reduce bee disease. Flowers have been shown to be hotspots for bee disease transmission. If you think of a flower as an elementary school drinking fountain, it makes sense that a sequence of bees could be exposed to disease carried by previous floral visitors. Following a visit by parasite-infected bumblebees, some flowering plants (such as milkweed or bee balm) harbored more bee pathogens than others (e.g. thyme or snapdragons) [iii]. And here’s a fun fact you have likely never come across before: bees preferentially poop on seaside daisy compared to a variety of other flowering plants in the Malvaceae, Verbenaceae, or composites with less floral area in disk flowers[iv]. Planting diverse flower types diffuses interactions between healthy and diseased bees. Not all floral morphologies effectively hold and transfer disease. And, planting diverse plant types provides more foraging options for bees, which can limit opportunities for healthy and diseased bees to come into contact.
While some flowers may be hotspots for bee disease transmission, others provide anti-microbial compounds that help some bee to naturally fight disease. The common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), but not the brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis) was able to fend off parasite infection after consuming sunflower (Helianthus annuus) pollen[v].
Research on the nutritional ecology of wild bees is relatively young. And, from what we’ve learned thus far, different bee species have different nutirtional needs. It’s thus impossible to provide a specific garden plant recipe that can promote optimal bee health. Nonetheless, a few key points are clear. Monocultural cropping systems are harmful to bee nutrition. Just as you or I could not achieve optimal health by limiting our diet to one food item, neither can bees. And, this nutritional harm that monocultural cropping systems presents to bees doesn’t even consider the increased pesticide applications that single-cropped systems generally require. Gardens, on the other hand, are better poised to meet the nutritional requirements of bees, by virtue of the diverse flowering plant community that is typical of most gardens.
Thus, in case you need a reason to go out and discover new flowering plants for bees and other beneficial insects in your garden, bee nutrition is yet one more reason to build biodiverse plantings into your garden design.
[v] Malfi et al. 2023. Sunflower plantings reduce a common gut pathogen and increase queen production in common eastern bumblebee colonies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 290: 20230055. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2023.0055