Welcome to the Melibee Project!
What happens when a new plant species comes into an area, and it is more attractive to pollinators than anything else around? Does it improve pollination of the native plants that are already there? Or does it lure away pollinators, or lead to the delivery of the wrong kind of pollen?
Blueberries (left), cranberries (middle two images), and white sweetclover (right) all share the same habitat and overlap in pollinators.
We are asking these types of questions following the arrival of a non-native plant, white sweetclover (Melilotus albus) in habitats in interior Alaska. We are particularly concerned about the impact on two of our favorite berry species: bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and lowbush cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea, also known as lingonberry). These plants are prized by many, but particularly important components of subsistence lifestyles practiced across Alaska. Sweetclover has been expanding rapidly across the state, and is considered to be an invasive species. The native berry species and the invasive plant share pollinators such as native bumblebees, solitary bees, and syrphid flies. These plant species also share habitats, such as the relatively open habitat created following a fire.
The goal of our project is to figure out how what the overall impact of sweetclover is on the production of blueberry and cranberry fruits and seeds, and why. We expect impacts to depend, in part, on where in the state these plant species coexist, because in some places there is a lot of overlap in the time periods during which the native and invasive plants flower, and in some places there is not. Since sweetclover is still expanding and is likely to soon reach many villages that are off the road system and currently not invaded, we are also concerned with predicting where impacts are likely to be particularly large. Our Research site describes the questions we are asking, the methods we use for answering them, and our early results.
You don't need to be a professional scientist to do research! There are several great ways to get involved in this project:
Citizen Science webpage.
For Classrooms webpage, including information about lesson plans and protocols for teaching about invasive plants and pollinators. All of these have been field tested on real teachers and kids!
And about that project name...