When you fly from Oakland Airport, you can learn about bees in an exhibit curated by my Misha Leong, a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley! I can’t wait to have a reason to travel so I can see it in person!
Interested in learning to ID bees? Now you don’t have to wait for the annual Bee Course in Arizona (though I highly recommend it to everyone).
The Frankie lab at Berkeley is hosting a Jepson Herbarium workshop at Hastings Reserve in June! Here are the details:
Are you interested in learning more about the most important pollinators in your gardens? California’s native bees are extremely diverse (~1,600 species) and are critical for providing ecosystem services not only in wild habitats but also in agricultural and urban settings.
This course will provide basic information about native bee biology and ecology with a specific focus on identification to the generic level. Course participants will spend time collecting in the field at the UC Hastings Reserve and at a nearby diverse garden in Carmel Valley. They will also spend time in the lab viewing and keying collected specimens. Evening lectures on a variety of related topics will add to the field experiences. This workshop is an extension of the previously offered weekend bee workshop, with more focus on bee identification.
Bee collections from the Hastings Reserve date back several decades, so knowledge of important bee-flower relationships are well known for this site. Participants will learn about bees’ flower preferences, how to collect bees using several different methods, information on how to build a bee-friendly garden, bee photography techniques, and bee identification using generic keys and microscopes. Participants will also learn about Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter’s new book on urban California bees and their preferred flowers.
June 4-8 • Workshop fee ($595/$635) includes lodging and meals from Wednesday dinner through Sunday lunch. Most participants will be accommodated in dormitory-style rooms with twin or bunk-style beds. Space outside the bunkhouse is also available for camping. Showers and flush toilets are available. This workshop will conclude early Sunday afternoon.
Honey bees are bumble bees are closely related, which means that some diseases apadted to one might be able to jump to the other. We already knew zombie flies could transition from a bumble bee host to honey bees- causing them to leave their hives at night to fly lurchingly around lights until they die and the parasites controlling them emerge to find new hosts.
Now it seems deformed wing virus and a fungal pathogen, Nosema ceranae, were found on bumble bees across the United Kingdom. Both pathogens lead to shorter bee lifespans, which increases the threat to bumble bees, which are already in decline in most of the world due to habitat loss.
These two diseases have already taken a high toll on honey bees- so the out look is decidedly not good. This is a reminder to continue working to preserve natural areas, create habitat in urban and agricultural areas, and reduce spraying of pesticides that are known to be highly toxic to all bee species.
Read the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26242960
Two species of leaf cutting bee were found to harvest plastics from their environment and use them to seal the brood chambers in their nests, the places where they lay their eggs and young larval bees develop. In both cases, the plastics resembled the materials that the bees typically collected. In one case the plastic was from a plastic shopping bag and in another it was exterior house sealant.
Although the bees used the plastics, they were found in less than 1% of cell walls constructed. Nevertheless, the plastic pieces did not adhere to the masticated leaf fragments and were flaking off. Yet in the bees in chambers containing plastics matured and emerged successfully. When plastic straws have been used to rear leaf-cutter bees, the young were not successful, usually due to moisture retention that lead to mold.
It’s hard to say whether this discovery is positive or negative. According the authors, the ability of the bees to use plastics displays flexibility and adaptation to a world that has ever-increasing levels of plastic in the environment. Yet there could be consequences of using plastics if they alter bee development, although this was not noted in this study. At any rate, plastics are here to stay, and insect adaptation to their presence is likely to become increasingly necessary.
J. Scott MacIvor and Andrew E. Moore 2013. Bees collect polyurethane and polyethylene plastics as novel nest materials. Ecosphere 4:art155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES13-00308.1
Just watched the Edible Education lecture my PI Claire Kremen gave last Spring. It’s quite informative. Gives a very complete story about why bees are important to agriculture, what’s affecting honeybees, and how native bees can be part of the solution, if farmland is diversified to provide the habitat they need.
Although I (and all the bee biologists I know) am fascinated with the vast and surprising diversity of bees, pollination is often the main reason most people care about these invertebrates. We need them for our crops, in both agricultural fields and home gardens, yet they are also important for maintaining the fields of wildflowers that grace natural habitats throughout the world. Yet little is known about the differences in the efficacy of pollination in these three different environments. Misha Leong, a fellow graduate student here in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, has been assessing visitation and seed set in urban, agricultural and natural areas in California’s Bay Area. Leong used yellow starthistle, a common grassland weed found in all her environments of interest, as a sort of probe to test rates of pollination.
It turns out that in natural habitats, bees visit the thistle in far fewer numbers, yet those same visits results in higher seed set than in urban and agricultural areas. This may be because there are more plant species for bees to choose from in the non-natural areas. That’s right, you heard me, in late summer, when yellow starthistle blooms, human-made environments actually provide more resources than natural areas that are usually starved for water. Spring is prime-time for California’s dry grasslands, so in late-summer, when the native plants have senesced, bees may be more reliant on starthistle, thus carry more pollen during each visit despite having fewer overall visits. Nature is full of little paradoxes like this.
Now as I mentioned, yellow starthistle is a terrible invasive weed. It is prickly and can take over areas rapidly. I am not very encouraged that it might do better in natural areas, the places we most need to conserve. This research doesn’t really point to what we can do to prevent its spread. And it’s harder still to imagine taking away resources from bees at the end of their flight season. Nevertheless, it is interesting that a plant can have high rates of visitation in such non-natural environments as those studied. Hopefully the same proves true for wildflowers or crops we add to our urban and suburban gardens.
This is an open access article, which means you can read the real thing by clicking this link:
Leong M, Kremen C, Roderick GK (2014) Pollinator Interactions with Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) across Urban, Agricultural, and Natural Landscapes. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86357. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086357
While the rest of the country braces for another polar vortex, California is officially in a drought. The state is seeing record highs for this time of year, and no forecast of much-needed rain anytime soon. We know what this means for our water use, but what does it mean for the pollinators of our crops and wildflowers?
This question sent me into the literature, where I found a study published just last year that broached this very topic. The researchers studied a desert system during a drought event. They found that in drier years, the bee community shifted towards generalists– bees that forage on a variety of different species of flowers. In contrast, specialists– bees that specialize in pollination of a single species or genera of flower– were absent or in much lower abundance than during wetter years. The wildflower community was also depauperate, with patches of wildflowers instead of lush fields. Further, the plants that did bloom had fewer flowers. Thus, it appears that bees are able to track conditions that are favorable to their species of choice.
There were differences, however, between annual and perennial plants. Annuals are shallow-rooted, whereas perennials are deep rooted and able to draw on resources deeper into the soil, as well as store resources. The authors found that specialist pollinators of perennial plants such as mesquite, still emerged in drought years to visit the flowers produced by the tree despite the low levels of precipitation.
How are specialists able to determine what years are good ones for them to emerge versus which might be bad? Bees are able to go into diapause, where their system becomes dormant (it’s akin to what we think of as hibernation, where the metabolism slows and development can be delayed). Diapause can be induced by certain environmental conditions that basically cue a creature into whether or not they should emerge into the world to collect food, or remain protected and in a state that requires little nourishment when resources they require may be in short supply. Similarly, environmental stimuli, such as moisture or temperature, can bring creatures in diapause out of that state so that they can then take advantage of pulses of resources if they are available.
Over short periods of drought, diapause is important adaptation, allowing species to ensure that they will have their appropriate food sources available. However, the authors caution that if there are prolonged periods of drought, such as those predicted by climate change, species in diapause may be forced to emerge or die if conditions do not improve. Additionally, species differ in their ability to undergo diapause, thus some may fare better than others. If drought periods are long-lasting, resources that perennial plants rely on may dry up, affecting the specialists that visit them as well. Generalist bees may not be as clued into environmental cues of droughts, and therefore may suffer reduced reproduction during drought years harming their populations over the long term. In short, the droughts predicted may have severe and lasting negative affects on the community of native bees. The authors predict that some species would be extirpated (go locally extinct) from areas strongly affected by drought.
Not a rosy picture at all. For now, we should all hope for the rains to come again, if not this year, then next year, so the bees in diapause get their much needed pollen and nectar.
Minckley, Robert L., H. Roulston T’ai, and Neal M. Williams. “Resource assurance predicts specialist and generalist bee activity in drought.”Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280.1759 (2013).