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Student Research Spotlight - Emily Erickson

Posted: June 21, 2017

This is the 10th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Are you the solution to insect pollinator conservation?
By: Alexandra Duffy

Your food and much of Earth's plant diversity depends on a group of beneficial animals, primarily insects, called "pollinators". However, insect pollinators are in danger. So much so, even your friends on Facebook are likely sharing news articles on global pollinator decline. Awareness of this devastation is increasing, but what can you do about it? Well, part of the solution may lie in your own back yard.

Emily Erickson, a master's student in The Grozinger Lab at Penn State University, hopes to combat global insect pollinator decline through her research on "pollinator-friendly" ornamental plants. Emily's research is part of the larger effort at the Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research to address a diversity of issues related to pollinator conservation.

"When people think of pollinators they don't think of San Francisco, New York, or other major cities" says Emily, but planting and maintaining pollinator-friendly gardens in urban landscapes helps pollinator conservation by increasing nutrient availability. Nutrient-rich nectar sources can come from the ornamental plants you buy at the local market. Understanding specifically which ornamental plants are beneficial to visiting insect pollinators will improve pollinator conservation efforts.

Emily's research focuses on identifying different ornamental plant species varieties that are attractive to a vast network of insect pollinators. "Honey bees and bumble bees aren't the only insects visiting flowers!" stresses Emily.  She embraces the complexity of the system by looking at native bee species as well as other diverse groups of insect pollinators, such as flies, beetles, and butterflies. All of these insects are vital to ecosystem health and should be welcomed visitors in gardens. Ultimately, Emily strives to understand what floral traits of different ornamental plant varieties promote pollinator visiting
    
Emily's research will "broaden the inventory of available plants in urban settings" so you can go out and purchase "pollinator-friendly" plants to plant in your own garden and promote pollinator conservation.