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Food Chain Restoration for Pollinators: Regional Habitat Recovery Strategies Involving Protected Areas of the Southwest

Steve Buckley and Gary Paul Nabhan

Natural Areas Journal Oct 2016 : Vol. 36, Issue 4, pg(s) 489-497 doi: 10.3375/043.036.0415


National Park Service Southwest Exotic Plant Management Team 12661 E. Broadway Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85748

University of Arizona Center for Regional Food Studies Tucson, AZ 85748

Corresponding author: ; 530-595-6187

Steve Buckley is the botanist for the Southwest Exotic Plant Management Team of the National Park Service. He works with parks throughout the southwestern United States to support restoration operations, seed collection, and plant materials development to support plant—pollinator interactions and invasive species management. Working with the BLM and other land management agencies, he oversees the Madrean Archipelago Plant Propagation (MAPP) Center in Patagonia, Arizona, and is finishing a doctorate at the University of Arizona on regional restoration strategies for pollinators.

Gary Paul Nabhan is the Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies and the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona. Nabhan is also co-founder of the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign and Make Way for Monarchs. Author or editor of two books, several monographs, and journal articles on pollinator—plant interactions, he manages several pollinator gardens and hedgerows around his orchard in Patagonia, Arizona.


The steep declines over the last quarter century of wild pollinators in the Southwest among native bees, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus L.), hummingbirds, and nectar-feeding bats have come during a time of accelerated climate change, and are likely due to a variety of stresses interacting with climatic shifts. Nevertheless, there is mounting evidence that 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 peak flowering of many wildflowers serving as floral resources for pollinators is occurring three to five weeks earlier in spring than a century ago, leaving “phenological gaps” in nectar resource availability for certain pollinators. To avoid the threat of what A. Dobson (Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University) and others have termed “food web collapse,” a range of groups 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 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 US-Mexico desert border states. We highlight binational and multicultural workshops 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.


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