WATCH | NPC biology department starts pollinator garden

National Park College associate professor of biology Alexandra Barnard is shown in front of the NPC Lab Science building Friday near the location of the new pollinator garden. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield)
National Park College associate professor of biology Alexandra Barnard is shown in front of the NPC Lab Science building Friday near the location of the new pollinator garden. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield)

With help from a $500 grant from the Arkansas Environmental Education Association, the National Park College biology department is starting a pollinator garden outside the college's Lab Sciences building.

The grant is being used to purchase plants and supplies for the garden. Though initial planting began in the fall, NPC associate professor of biology Alexandra Barnard said she expects it to produce in the next couple of months and be fully blooming this summer.

"The goal is to kind of provide a space for mostly insects and also native plants," she said. "The problem is that urbanization is cutting up habitats, destroying sort of natural areas or chopping up animal habitats into like smaller pieces. And then we also have all these different like ornamental plants that come from other continents, and so they don't have the sort of evolutionary history with insects that native plants do."

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Barnard, noting the garden will help educate the public about the importance of native plants and insects for the ecosystem, said a lot of plants make toxins to protect themselves from insects. In turn, different insects co-evolve with specific plants to be able to eat them, while withstanding their toxins.

She prepared the grant request as part of AEEA's annual mini-grant program, which supports environmental and outdoor education projects in the state. AEEA Vice President Traci Hudson said in a news release the program aims to foster environmental awareness and stewardship.

"Like for instance, with monarchs, they feed on milkweed and they're able to take the toxins in that plant and actually use it for like their own defense from other predators. That's all their caterpillars can eat, is this one specific group of plants, and so if they don't have that, then there's nowhere for them to lay their eggs. There's nowhere for their young to grow up," Barnard said.

She noted that was only one species, and it is happening worldwide with different insect species. The goal, she said, is to have these "sort of stopover sites" where they can feed and lay their eggs.

"They provide food for a lot of birds, so like nesting," she said. "Baby songbirds, something like 90-plus percent of their diet comes from caterpillars. At the bottom of the food chain, we need native plants that can support the insects and then we need the insects to then feed, provide food for other animals. So it's just kind of building from the bottom up and trying to replace some of the native plants that have been lost and to help keep the rest of the ecosystem happy."

Barnard said she is excited about involving her students in the project this spring, noting those from her ecology class from the fall are particularly excited because they have been involved from the start.

"I have learned a lot recently just about the importance of native plants, being able to support native insects and then provide food for birds. And so, a lot of ornamental plants that we have come from other continents. So, they don't actually provide food for the animals that we have here. We've disrupted the whole food web," she said in the release.

"I hope that having this garden there, we're going to have some signage and stuff that helps explain why native plants are important. Why are butterflies, moths, and beetles important to the functioning of our local systems."

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