Innovative feature highlights pollinator garden, York U’s sustainability efforts

pink flowers pollinator garden BANNER

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

A new augmented reality (AR) experience offered at the pollinator garden at York University looks to engage the community in the greening of campuses and serves as the latest example of York’s broader sustainability efforts and leadership.

York community members who decide to travel to visit the pollinator garden – designated as a haven for birds, bees and butterflies ­– on Chimneystack Road at the University’s Keele Campus will find an innovative surprise among the native plant and wildflower species.

Posted on new signs are QR codes that – when captured with smart phone or tablet – invite a special visitor to their screens: an augmented reality butterfly, eager to land on the user’s palm. The AR experience is meant to reward and delight those who visit the gardens, while fostering an awareness of the vital role pollinators – like butterflies, along with birds and bees – play in the world’s ecosystems.

“Through these gardens, we not only provide essential foraging and nesting sites for pollinators but also create green corridors that promote biodiversity and ecological connectivity,” says Stewart Dankner, director of property management, facilities services at York.

The garden is one of several naturalized spots strategically dispersed across University campuses – ranging from rooftop gardens to designated wildflower patches – that are designed to “green” the landscape and support diverse pollinator species. The pollinator garden has been recently seeded and is expected to grow and thrive over the coming years – in good part because of the creatures that will visit it.

In that way, the AR experience is designed to encourage community members to think about the importance of pollinators. In addition to butterflies, bees are a particular target of these gardens, as they are among nature’s most specialized and efficient insect pollinators – collecting pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae – that contribute to one in every three bites of food we eat.

Bees are also an area of York leadership and study through experts in the field like Distinguished Research Professor Laurence Packer and the Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution & Conservation (BEEc), which strives to advance research in the fields of bee ecology, evolution and conservation to increase the long-term sustainability of bees and the vital ecosystem services they provide.

Stewart Danker
Stewart Dankner

The gardens then are reflective of not just BEEc efforts but tied to broader ones around York looking to advance United Nations Sustainable Development Goals centred on contributing to protection, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems to halt biodiversity loss.

“The collective effort to establish and maintain pollinator habitats aligns with broader sustainability goals, underscoring dedication to environmental stewardship and conservation,” says Dankner.

Those goals and efforts have led to the University being recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers and the recent announcement that it would be aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 – a decade sooner than its previous commitment.

The seeds for reaching that goal are being nurtured by initiatives like the new AR experience and the pollinator gardens, which students, faculty, staff and others are encouraged to enjoy – whether during a walk, a living lab supporting teaching and research, or more. Further information about the pollinator habitats can be found through the Office of Sustainability website.