Pollen and Bees Beelong Together

Although this season’s in-field research was halted with much of the rest of the world, the work being done to save our pollinators keeps on going! By examining the pollen collected by bumble bee queens, the Native Pollinator Initiative is able to better understand the habitat requirements of species at risk, such as Bombus terricola, the yellow-banded bumble bee.

The relationship between flowers and pollinators is mutually beneficial. The rules are unspoken, and the flowers did not sign a contract with the bees. Flowers provide pollinators with access to nectar and pollen, which is vital to provisioning for their young. In return, pollinators transfer pollen from the anther (where the pollen is produced) of one flower, to the stigma of another flower. If the flower is of the same species, the stigma triggers pollen tube growth which facilitates the transfer of male cells to the plant ovary.

Diagram depicting the act of pollen tube growth from a pollen grain. [© Patricia Prelich]
Diagram depicting pollen tube growth from a pollen grain into the pistil of a flower. [© Patricia Prelich]

Morphology plays a special role in the interactions between bees and plants. The hairs on the legs of bees help them grasp pollen grains. Some species of bees also have a pollen basket, called a corbicula, on their tibia which allows them to efficiently store and carry pollen until they return to the nest. Many of the samples collected by the Bumble Bee Recovery team are actually taken from the corbicula of queen bumble bees!

Bumble bee visits a flower with a yellow pollen load already in its corbicula. [© Patricia Prelich]

Plants have their own mechanisms which help increase the chances of their pollen making it to another flower of the same species. Certain species of plants, such as those in the Asteraceae family, have echinate pollen, meaning their pollen has spines on the surface, which help the grains stick onto the hairs of bees. Some studies even show that the size of the grain and the presence of spines may make it more difficult for bees to pack the pollen into their corbicula. This increases the chances of the pollen making it to another flower, and not to the colony of the bumble bee.

The differences in pollen morphology among plant species makes it easier to identify samples. It also allows us to better understand the relationship between bumble bees and the species of plants which they frequent. With the power of a microscope, and many online resources to help with identification, we can work to create a database of information on Ontario flowering species and their pollen. This database can provide vital information on habitat requirements for species at risk, which can help guide conservation efforts and increase the chances of long-term species sustainability in the wild.

A sample slide containing the pollen of downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesqueanum), under the microscope. [© Patricia Prelich]
A variety of pollen grains from different species, under the microscope. Descending from left to right: giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), daylily (Hemerocallis sp.,) coriander (Coriandrum sativum), field pumpkin (Cucubita pepo), and creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). [© Patricia Prelich]

With love from Patricia.

Save the Bees

The bee you see on the face of every Cheerios box has gone missing. 


Just kidding. Don’t panic. He’s disappeared before! It’s all part of the Save the Bees campaign that the Cheerios brand puts out during spring. As you may have guessed, honey is one of the ingredients in the famous honey nut Cheerios, and the company has taken that opportunity to support pollinators. After all, without them, there would be no Cheerios. Through prompts on their boxes, along with some online and television ad campaigns, Cheerios encourages their customers to go on their website for more information and… free seeds! Plant these seeds and you’ll see bees amongst other pollinators visiting your garden. Or so Cheerios claims. Upon further research, or a simple Google search, it is easy to find articles with flashy titles warning the public not to plant the seeds they receive from Cheerios. But why? What can be so bad about planting flowers? Many claim that Cheerios is actually sending out mixes of seeds, many of which contain species of plants that are not native to the regions they are being sent to. Invasive species are already running a muck in Ontario, smothering native species which are more attractive to native pollinators. However, upon signing up for the Save the Bees campaign with Cheerios I was notified that I would receive free sunflower seeds in 4-6 weeks, not a mix of different species. Some sunflower species are native to Ontario. This includes the Thin-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus), Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricates), Giant or Tall Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus), Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) and the Prairie Sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) which is native in Western Ontario. The False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), although part of a different genus, is also native to Ontario. According to Pollinator Partnership Canada, out of the three ecoregions in Ontario (see below for areas included in these ecoregions) only pollinators in the the Algonquin-Lake Nippissing ecoregion do not have sunflowers on the top of their flower list. The Woodland sunflower is attractive to pollinators in both the Lake Erie Lowlands and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe ecoregion, and the False sunflower is attractive to pollinators in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe ecoregion. Sunflowers are not only native in Ontario, but pollinators really like them! It seems that Cheerios downfall is not sending out seeds or spreading information, but rather not notifying the public of the species of sunflower they are sending out.

The articles discussing the Cheerios seed epidemic are, in fact, mainly from last year. Could it be that Cheerios heard the complaints and took on a more native species approach this year? Not necessarily. Regardless of what province you are from Cheerios will be sending you sunflower seeds. This puts the pressure on the public to do their own research and find out if sunflowers are native in their area. Regardless of the amount of research, the public is still risking planting invasive species due to the lack of species identification. It would be beneficial for Cheerios to further narrow their seed system and send native seeds to the provinces they are native in. Woodland sunflowers to Ontario, Thin-leaved Sunflower to New Brunswick, Common Purple Lilac to Newfoundland and so forth. Despite this shortcoming, it is important to acknowledge Cheerios’ work with pollinators and the environment. In a world where so many companies sell their products without concern for their impact, Cheerios is doing amazing work with the public that should be appreciated and modelled by others. Shaming a project for its attempt to better our planet discourages others from attempting to do the same. Suggestions can be and should be offered for every endeavour, that is how we improve. Just as research should be carried out by every party involved. I would like to thank Cheerios for spreading word about pollinators and for getting the public involved. And as always, I encourage you to do your research and follow your heart. 

Below you will find a few tips on how to further help your native community. 

Ecoregions of Ontario:

  • Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe: Manitoulin Island, Owen Sound, Stratford, Oshawa, the Kawarthas, and Kingston/Belleville area
  • Algonquin-Lake Nipissing: Sault Ste.Marie, Elliot Lake, Subury, North Bay, Parry Sound, Huntsville, and Ottawa River Valley area
  • Lake Erie Lowland: the Greater Toronto Area, the Golden Horseshoe, Sarnia, London, Windsor, and Niagara Region 

How to help:

  • Plant a variety of plant species in clumps of the same species to attract pollinators
  • Leave areas of bare ground exposed with dead twigs and branches for nesting females
  • If you have to use pesticides, use them when bees aren’t active
  • Stay away from nests to prevent bees from feeling threatened and becoming aggressive 
  • Research what pollinators frequent your area and what plants are best for them
  • Provide areas of shelter and water appropriate for the pollinators in your area

With love from Patricia.



There is a set of windowless doors, tucked away in the Schad Gallery of the Royal Ontario Museum. They hide just to the right of the caribou, guarded by the key swipe with a red light symbolizing “Thou shall not pass”… without the appropriate badge. My first time I visited the ROM’s curatorial department I was taken through those doors, and I was terrified. It was the end of the spring semester of my post-graduate diploma and I had yet to find a placement for my required internship. Thankfully Ann, Assistant Coordinator of the Hands-On-Galleries, set up a meeting with the manager of the Schad Gallery and knower of all things birds, Mark Peck. He asked me how familiar I was with bird taxonomy and local species. Having only taken a single course on birds during my undergrad, years ago, I smiled and told the truth: not much, but I want to learn more and I can do it fast. After chatting about my future aspirations and goals, I was assigned to help digitize the bird collection at the ROM. My computer skills are a far cry from tech savvy, however I was up for the challenge!

My internship project is specific to digitizing the North American species in the bird collection, and this starts with their eggs and nests. My days begin with returning specimens to the collection that have successfully been photographed for database records. Then I fill as many bins as I can with sets of eggs and nests that best represent their respective species. All of these egg sets come with a unique ROM identification number, known as the accession number, which I enter into a spreadsheet along with the species name and the size of the eggs. However, things don’t always go as planned. I can only fill as many bins as I get back from the team taking photos of the eggs, and the tops of cabinets can only hold so many nests. I didn’t know much about the taxonomy of birds be- fore starting my internship, but I have learned fast􏰀 almost too fast. As I wait for the photography team, I take on side projects such as going through birding journals from the 1940s. These journals provide us with a glimpse into the past and allow us to track what species of birds were present in the area and when, which helps ornithologists monitor species distribution changes. Over the last several months I have learned how to database information and how the ROM stores and cares for its bird collection. However, the most important thing I have learned thus far has been to have faith in yourself and take on new challenges, because you never know what you’ll find in the curatorial cabinets at the ROM.

With love from Patricia.

Beyond the North

The Museum of Nature, located in Ottawa Ontario, is host to many spectacular nature exhibits. The newest and shiniest of installations features the bold and beautiful Canadian North. Opened on June 21st, 2017, the gallery is interactive and educational in the best ways. It contains oodles of information on the wildlife which inhabits the land and waterscapes, and how humans interact with them. Featuring the voices of Northern communities, who are free to share their experiences living in the cold, the Museum of Nature does an excellent job in conveying the respect the people have for wildlife, and their need to live with it.

On July 29th of this year, I took a trip to the Museum of Nature, intrigued by hearing whispers of their amazing new gallery. A true step forward in the conservation field by connecting our public to an ecosystem many have only heard of. After all, people are more likely to care about and take action when they feel connected to the ecosystem which they are contributing to. With the excitement of a little girl, I zipped through the museum, with awe. Finally, I reached the top floor and stopped. Before entering the Arctic Gallery, I was greeted with a rather large Canada Goose Company symbol. Despite my disapproval of a company which uses real fur as trim on their iconic jackets, I marched on, and I must say, I loved every bit of the gallery. It’s use of multiple forms of media made it not only accessible, but gave all visitors from every age category a chance to connect in a way they felt comfortable. It presented the traditional communities in a respectful way, ensuring the stories were told by the people who lived them. So why then, did they choose to accept a $1.5 million sponsorship from a company as controversial as Canada Goose? Wouldn’t it be considered hypocritical to have a company which kills animals as a sponsor for a gallery promoting conservation? I decided to take a deeper dive.

In the 1950’s, Canada goose founder Sam Tick, started a company focused on woollen vests, snowmobile jackets, and raincoats. It wasn’t until his son-in-law David Reiss joined the company, that Canada Goose began using real down in their jackets to increase their ability to insulate. Real fur wasn’t incorporated until the company took on a project to aid the researchers working in the coldest places on earth, Antarctica. As much as I support faux fur, it is a known fact that nothing keeps you quite as warm as real fur. After all, animals evolved it to keep themselves warm in those conditions, and the exact structure is expensive and difficult to recreate. To prevent frost-bite from nipping at their skin, Canada Goose added fur to help keep researchers safe and comfortable in beyond freezing conditions. The first jacket to have both down and real fur was nick-named Big-Red. As unfortunate as it may be, this jacket caught on, but more-so as a fashion statement. Canada Goose jackets can now be seen walking the streets of Toronto, where the weather never gets nearly as bad as in the Arctic. Since the take off of the company, however, Canada Goose has worked on ensuring sustainable practices. They use coyote fur because of abundant populations, and ensure that the coyotes are killed in humane ways. One can argue there is no humane way to capture and kill an animal simply for its fur, and I believe this is something the consumer should take into account before buying a jacket from the company. The down is sourced from the poultry industry,  so the entire animal is being used, which somewhat helps ease the minds of animal lovers. Furthermore, Canada Goose has committed to traceable sources, ensuring that all their animal products come from trusted sources within Canada which comply with the Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) and the Best Managed Practices (BMP).

Although their use of fur and down is extremely controversial to many people, and I personally disagree with their use of fur as fashion, their commitment to conservation is admirable. The company did not originate as a fashion statement, but rather as a way to ensure researchers in the arctic were kept safe. They acknowledge the use of fur as a choice and try to achieve this in the most ethical way possible, noting that it is virtually impossible to entirely separate humans from animal use. To better contribute to conservation efforts, the company has partnered with Polar Bear International (PBI) an organization focused on wild polar bear conservation. Canada Goose also donates over 1 million meters of fabric to northern communities, honouring their origins of aiding people in arctic climates.

After taking this dive into the history of the company, I am no longer surprised at the Museum of Nature’s decision to use Canada Goose as a sponsor. In fact, I think it is a worth while partnership. The mandate of the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery in the Museum of Nature is to better the public’s understanding and respect for the Arctic, its communities, and wildlife. It seems to me that Canada Goose has a similar goal, through its contribution to polar bear conservation and community engagement. Instead of spreading negative information and comments about the company, perhaps efforts would be better spent in a middle ground. Think twice before buying a jacket, think about whether or not you really need fur in this climate, and support conservation efforts through other means. By visiting the gallery, you are supporting the northern communities. I don’t believe that Canada Goose’s use of fur on their jackets should negate their role in the conservation field, or dissuade the public from visiting such an inspiring and valuable gallery. As always, I encourage you to follow your heart.

With love from Patricia.


Beyond Me

Welcome to Beyond Human and thank you for joining me on this journey! Beyond Human is a blog I’ve been wanting to start for a while. Like most people in the field of conservation, I have plenty of opinions and thoughts, and I believe those thoughts and opinions should be discussed. Please feel free to shoot me a message regarding my posts, start a conversation, and as always, follow your heart.


With love from Patricia.