IAB Research Project Description

Are Alaskan Pollinators Abandoning Native Berries for Exotic Clover?

The lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), above, is one of two plants that play a large role in the subsistence economy of boreal Alaska. The other is bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum). Institute of Arctic Biology ecologist Christa Mulder and her research team are investigating whether the presence of the invasive legume sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) can alter the production of fruits of lingonberry and blueberry.

Any and all uses of these images must include photographer credit.

In Alaska invasive plant species have only very recently moved into natural habitats. Invasive plants can have indirect effects on native plans through shared pollinators.

Christa Mulder's research team will evaluate whether the presence of Melilotus officinalis (sweetclover), an invasive legume, can alter the production of fruits of two species that play a large role in the subsistence economy of boreal Alaska: Vaccinium uliginosum (bog blueberry) and Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry or mountain cranberry).

We will distinguish between three mechanisms that could be responsible: changes in pollinator visitation rates (primarily by bumblebees and solitary bees), changes in pollen quality, and sequential mutualism (where the presence of one plant species increases pollinator availability of another, later-flowering species).

Ongoing Melilotus control projects will be used to evaluate potential management techniques for reducing any negative impacts to pollinators and berry production.

We will offer a continuing education course to secondary science teachers that provides theoretical and hands-on training and allows them to develop a curriculum to be implemented in rural schools. Both students and members of the general public (recruited through the visitor's program at the Institute of Arctic Biology's very popular Large Animal Research Station) will contribute phenological data for Melilotus and Vaccinium species to a central database; these data will improve our ability to predict potential changes in interactions over large geographic scales.

This project addresses an FY 2009 priority by identifying how invasive species affect an ecosystem service (pollination) for two plant species that provide subsistence food and commercial agricultural opportunities and also play an important cultural role in boreal Alaska.


Related publications

Project collaborator and former UAF biology and wildlife graduate student Katie Spellman has an article on this project in:

USDA Forest Health Conditions in Alaska - 2009 report.


Media coverage

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Juneau Empire.


Alaska Public Radio.

Project Funding

United States Department of Agriculture
1 May 2010 – 30 Apr 2011
IAB Proposal #2009-110
UAF Grant #6295
IAB Project #198

Outreach & Media

Related News Releases

News and Outreach Articles

  • Plant monitoring project tracks competition for pollinators
    [ link ]
  • The beauty of pollen is nothing to sneeze at
    [ link ]
  • Invasive plants may threaten Alaska’s native berries
    [ link | pdf ]
  • Invasive plants may threaten Alaska’s native berries
    [ link | pdf ]
  • Invasive plants may threaten Alaska’s native berries
    [ link ]

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412