Wild Native Bees Continue to be Studied

Pickerelweed shortface bee. Photo by Molly Jacobson
02/06/2020

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) student Molly Jacobson along with SUNY ESF professors Michael Schummer, Melissa Fierke, and Donald Leopold, began studying native bee assemblages and their plant-pollinator associations among wetland management treatments at the Seneca Meadows Wetlands Preserve in Seneca Falls and the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in Savannah last summer.  The update report outlined several highlights for 2019, and sets the ongoing stage for 2020 research.

The goal has been to gain a better understanding of the response of wild native bee diversity to management of restored wetlands in an agricultural landscape.  With a lion share of flowering plants and crops depending upon animal pollination, mostly bees, these wetlands nestled in the agricultural heartland of the Finger Lakes region presented an ideal locale to study this.  Wetlands are critical habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, from mammals to birds and reptiles, but over half of the wetlands in North America have been destroyed from human activity like agricultural expansion and the engineering of rivers. “Efforts in the last century to protect and restore wetlands, such as the Seneca Meadows Wetlands Preserve, have been instrumental to ensuring the survival of wetland-dependent species,” offered Jacobson.

Jacobson and her team investigated how native bees use such human-managed wetlands to gain insight into how management techniques primarily used to benefit vertebrates also affect bees. Their discoveries will help inform future management, and emphasize the importance of preserving and restoring wetlands for all wildlife.

Jacobson caught 706 pollinators at Seneca Meadows, including 641 bees, but also other pollinating insects like flower flies and wasps.  One of these – Bombus fervidus, the golden northern bumblebee – is in serious decline in the northeastern U.S. This bee was collected fairly often in the wetlands sampled; as such, wetlands may be important in supporting this bee. Another bee captured on pickerelweed was Dufourea novaeangliae, the pickerelweed shortface bee. As its name suggests, it is a specialist on pickerelweed – it visits nothing else.

“We caught 43 of the pickerelweed shortface bees on a single sweep of pickerelweed flowers at Seneca Meadows. This species is scarce and hard to find because of how specific its habitat needs are, which made it an exciting discovery. The ability to support a large population of these bees is encouraging for the health of wetlands at Seneca Meadows,” stated Jacobson.

The diversity of bees caught at Seneca Meadows is suggestive of quality habitat for pollinators. Both generalist bees (like sweat bees and bumblebees) and specialist bees (pickerelweed shortface bee and others) are using these wetlands, suggesting that wetlands are a vital component of a diverse landscape that allows bees to travel to where resources are most plentiful over the course of the season. Wetlands tend to provide late-summer blooms like pickerelweed, swamp milkweed, beggarsticks, and Joe-pye weed, which bees use when upland plants have mainly gone to seed. “With this knowledge, we can begin to incorporate wetlands into pollinator conservation efforts,” concluded Jacobson.

For more information on the Seneca Meadows Wetlands Preserve visit senecameadows.com

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