Posted by: Chip Small | June 13, 2016

Pollinator research: what’s all the buzz about?

Flowers are blooming all over the UST campus, and anyone who pauses for a second will notice that they are full of interesting arthropods–from lumbering bumble bees to scores of honeybees (especially on North Campus!), to tiny black native bees (especially on South Campus!), flies that mimic bees, various butterflies, and even a bizarre-looking hummingbird moth–these are just the creatures that we observed during a few walks last week.


Native bees are abundant at the UST Stewardship Garden on South Campus.

These pollinators are economically and ecologically important, and have been under pressure from a combination of habitat loss, pesticides, and pathogens.  Last semester, a team of students in my Environmental Problem Solving class worked on a project focused on pollinator gardens for the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO), through the UST’s new Sustainable Communities Partnership program.  MWMO provides funding for the creation of new pollinator gardens for a large portion of Minneapolis, and they wanted to know whether the spatial configuration of these pollinator gardens matters for bees.  We hypothesized that residents in more affluent neighborhoods would be more likely to establish pollinator gardens, and that, as a result, there could be gaps of high-quality habitat in portions of the city–effectively pollinator desserts.  We learned that, while the foraging range of the honeybee (an introduced species from Europe) can extend beyond four miles, bumble bees and other native bees have much smaller foraging ranges, typically less than a half-mile.  Thus, we predicted, in areas were pollinator gardens are sparsely distributed, some of these native species should drop out, thus decreasing bee diversity. The team’s report for MWMO is available here.


A map of all 145 registered honeybee hives (yellow circles) in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  Honeybees are known to outcompete native bees, so we are interested in how proximity to honeybee hives affects native bee abundance in the Twin Cities.

One of the team members, Brittany Allen, decided to test this hypothesis as a summer research project.  We identified two focal sites at which she will conduct regular bee surveys throughout the summer.  The Urban Flower Field, in downtown Saint Paul (corner of 10th and Roberts Streets) is fairly isolated from other pollinator foraging areas.  By contrast, the pollinator habitat surrounding the UST Stewardship Garden on South Campus is in an area where pollinator gardens are relatively abundant.  Brittany will be making surveys at a number of other locations, and also enlisting the public in our study.  In addition to our question about the density of pollinator habitat, we are also interested in looking at how the proximity of a garden to a honeybee hive affects native bee abundance, as honeybees are known to outcompete native bees.  We are looking for anyone interested in learning rudimentary bee identification and surveying a pollinator garden in their yard or at a public park three times over the course of the summer.  Full details are available here. We’ll be providing updates over the course of the summer.







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