UF Scientists Encourage Gainesville Residents to Plant Bug-Friendly Gardens to Help Endangered Native Species

Lush pastures filled with colorful native flowers dot the University of Florida campus as part of a new plan to protect Florida’s pollinators.

The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, a section of the Florida Museum of Natural History, has partnered with UF to research simple ways for Gainesville residents to help conserve wildlife.

According to the McGuire Center website, it is one of the world’s largest centers of education, research and collection for butterflies and moths. Located on the UF campus, it houses over 10 million specimens.

Jaret Daniels, curator, has worked at the museum since 2012 as a specialist in the rare decline of insect species.

In recent years, he said concerns about biodiversity and native ecosystems have grown, leading scientists to search for solutions. One of the center’s goals is to educate and encourage the public to purchase insect-friendly plants that will attract native pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

“We hope to give consumers more choices to help wildlife,” he said. “Backyards and suburban neighborhoods can become safe havens that provide resources for pollinators.”

Daniels said the center’s research is popular with the public because of information gaps between scientists and people. Little is known about these insects, but they are interesting creatures.

The center works to help the species through captive breeding and habitat restoration, while educating the public about the importance of insects and biodiversity.

“We work with butterflies, which is a charismatic group,” he said. “We often attract families and children, which helps show that anyone can be a scientist.”

Daniels said he hopes one day the ecosystem will be in a stable state where conservation is no longer needed.

“However, conservation is not an overnight project,” he said.

He said he believed it was something that would take a lot of time and effort.

One of the 1,000 Butterflies of the Butterfly Rainforest, located at the Florida Museum of
Natural History, perched in the sun on July 5, 2022. (Brooke Johnson/WUFT News)

UF’s Florida Friendly Landscaping Program has a list of nine principles to help Florida residents preserve native species such as butterflies and moths.

The website promotes things like water efficiency, proper pest management, and shoreline protection.

The first principle of the program is Right Plant, Right Place. This is the importance of choosing Florida-friendly plants and lawns and eliminating invasive plants from a yard.

The aim of these selections is “to buy quality plants that welcome wildlife”.

Daniels said the university has worked to maintain conservation areas around campus, creating wildflower meadows.

He said UF students should understand the value of biodiversity and they should know where these conservation areas are.

“By learning to manage these landscapes more effectively, we are helping the environment,” he said.

Kaitlyn Tucker, 21, said endangered species must be preserved so they can be enjoyed by future generations.

As a student with no affiliation to the McGuire Center, Tucker said one way for the museum and the university to raise awareness is to plan outreach events.

“These events could be hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History,” she said. “In order to raise awareness among students and families.”

She said she thinks free monthly events for UF students will help people care more about conservation.

As a child, Tucker said outreach events, such as those she would like to see in the future, exposed her to the scientific community and set her on the path to becoming a passionate conservationist.

Keith Willmott, curator and program director, said it was his job to bring in grants and money for the centre. Continued research is important because insects are a good indicator of change in the environment.

“Many scientists are constantly studying the decline of insects,” he said.

With the possibilities of new discoveries even after only a year of work, laboratory research is always encouraged for everyone.

“Volunteer projects can lead to real projects,” Willmott said. “Students can find different ways to get involved by doing things like collecting data and learning lab skills.”

Often the museum also brings together crowds of young children with scientific interests.

“Butterflies and moths are a recreationally attractive group,” he said.

“Because of this, it is easy to interest the public in insect conservation.”

Toshita Barve, 22, said she thinks it’s important for everyone, regardless of age, to care about conservation research, especially when it comes to butterflies and moths.

“A lot of people think bugs are gross,” she said. “They are afraid of them.”

However, insects are among the most important factors in the ecosystem. They help pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and are a major food source.

As a student assistant at the center, Barve said she thinks the museum is an easy way for kids to understand the importance of insects and science.

“The museum is a great way to see how research is done,” she said. “There’s a literal glass window to look into the labs, and you can see scientists working.”

She said that by showing behind-the-scenes research, people will become more educated, curious and concerned.

Outside of the lab, the university is trying to incorporate ways to help native insects. UF created new landscapes and gardens and changed mowing schedules to grow native flowers.

Barve said students can also contribute to the campus-wide effort by purchasing Florida plants to put in their yards and balconies.

While it may seem difficult for students to find these plants, she said the museum often holds a plant sale filled with native flowers, trees and shrubs that can be used in residential landscaping.

Actions such as planting flowers will go a long way, she said.

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