BY ALLEGRA MOUNT, PUBLISHED IN THE PATAGONIA REGIONAL TIMES JUNE/JULY EDITION
The Old Main Elementary School’s cafeteria has been given new life as the Borderlands Restoration Seed Lab, the central hub of BRLI’s native seed conservation efforts. Spaces that used to hold tables and chairs now hold lab benches and seed cleaning equipment, and a dry-foods storage closet has been converted into a cooler for storing the seed collection, which is made up of over 600 individual collections of seeds of native species from wild lands across Southeast Arizona selected for their value in pollinator support, erosion control, and cultural enrichment (edible and medicinal plants).
Before moving to Old Main, the seed lab was housed in the small guest-house of a generous town resident, where bookshelves full of jars of seed lined the walls. All these seeds were collected from wild plants on public and private lands, and held within them adaptations to our unique and beautiful Sky Island mountain ranges, including the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains. Last year, our collectors brought in so many seeds the lab was literally bursting at the seams, and so a move to a larger space was in order.
The new space offers the opportunity for the seed lab to grow into an innovative seed cleaning, storage, and research facility. Current projects include an effort to bank seeds of priority species for restoration and conservation across the region, which is supported by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service; seed collection and storage for more than a dozen National Parks; ongoing studies on germination requirements for many native species; and evaluation of seed application methods for restoration (like seed balls).
There are many new developments in addition to the new lab. The seed lab is now selling retail wildflower and grass seed mixes to the public. For more information, visit this page. The lab is also welcoming new partnerships this summer with the Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute and the Smithsonian’s North American Orchid Conservation Center. Future course and training offerings from the seed lab can be seen on this page. To learn more about interning or volunteering at the seed lab, contact Allegra Mount at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Perin Hailey McNelis
The Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute (BRLI) kicked off its Mexico programming this May by co-sponsoring a field course through The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona led by Gary Nabhan and Bill Steen. The five day agro-ecology short course was held in the farm-ranch-riparian corridor mosaic of the Rio Sonora and was attended by BRLI fellows, Allegra Mount, Caleb Weaver, Perin McNelis, and Francesca Claverie. The pilot workshop focused on field methods for surveying & documenting the ecosystem services provided by living fencerows of cottonwoods & willows planted between agricultural fields and the banks of the river. The agroecological tradition of installing living fencerows is recognized by farmers and ranchers along the flood plains of the Rio Sonora as a necessity for buffering fields from damaging floodwaters and debris during the monsoon storms, while still allowing nutrients and moisture (or “el abono del rio,” literally translated to “manure of the river”) to nourish the cultivated areas.
From May 20-24th the workshop participants, comprised of stellar scientists, anthropologists and restoration practitioners, worked in groups to examine the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of the living fencerows. The groups conducted early morning surveys of plants, wildlife, and river geomorphology in these restored agro-riparian landscapes and enjoyed afternoon field trips to other sites of ecological, ethnobotanical & cultural interest… Some highlights included presentations and discussions led by Chiltepin producers and scientists studying the impact of the Cananea mine spill on the Rio Sonora. In addition, participants enjoyed visiting various bacanora home-distilleries and witnessed some of the best Folklorico dancing in all of Sonora.
The big take-away was to consider the Santa Cruz river, which no longer flows and has suffered much habitat loss, and the Rio Sonora which still flows and maintains a higher level of biodiversity and overall riparian ecosystem health. Is there something to be learned from the traditional agroecological practices of farmers in Sonora that could potentially be applied in threatened riparian areas North of the border? Could restoration practitioners and ranchers experiment with living fencerows to help bridge restoration ecology and agro-ecology in Arizona?
Food chain restoration for pollinators: Regional habitat recovery strategies involving protected areas of the Southwest
Authors: Steve Buckley, National Park Service and Gary Paul Nabhan, University of Arizona Southwest Center
Abstract: The steep declines over the last quarter century of wild pollinators in the Southwest among native bees, monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, and nectar-feeding bats have come during a time of accelerated climate change, are likely due to a variety of stresses interacting with climatic shifts. Nevertheless, there is mounting evidence that the declining availability and altered timing of floral resources along “nectar corridors” accessible to pollinators involves climatic shifts as a serious stressor that had been previously underestimated. Longitudinal studies from both urban heat islands and rural habitats in Southwestern North America suggest that the peak flowering of many wildflowers serving as floral resources for pollinators is occurring 3 to 5 weeks earlier in the spring than a century ago, leaving “phenological gaps” in nectar resource availability for certain pollinators. To avoid the threat of what Dobson and others have termed “food web collapse”, we have initiated ecological restoration efforts in semi-arid zones that attempt to a) assemble more resilient plant-pollinator food chains and b) hydrologically restore watercourses to ensure that water scarcity will be less likely to disrupt re-assembled food chains in the face of droughts, catastrophic floods and other correlates of global climate change. We recommend “bottom-up food chain restoration” strategies for restoring nectar corridors in protected areas on or near geopolitical and land management boundaries in all regions, but particularly in the “Southwest” or U.S./Mexico desert border states. We highlight the binational and multi-cultural workshops we have facilitated to communicate about and initiate restoration of mutualistic relationships among plants, pollinators, and people to protected area managers on both sides of the border.
Read the comprehensive study
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