Evaluating native perennial flower strips for supporting native bees and pollination services on farmlands.Bumble bee on beebalm flower

Native bees are increasingly recognized as important components of productive and sustainable agroecosystems.  However, native bees are declining, likely due to habitat loss that reduces floral resources and nesting sites.  Farming practices that support thriving and diverse communities of native bees and their pollination services are greatly needed, yet largely unexplored.  One strategy to increase the abundance of beneficial insects on farmland is to provide non-crop floral resources in the form of annual flower strips.  Few studies have evaluated the use of native perennial flower strips to provide resources (nectar and pollen) for pollinator conservation. 

The objectives of our project are to 1) evaluate the use of native perennial flower strips as a strategy for supporting native bees on farmlands; 2) determine the value of flower strips in improving crop pollination; 3) evaluate the potential of flower strips for native seed production and sales; and 4) execute a research-based outreach program to communicate our findings.  Long-term goals are to advance management strategies that support healthy, sustainable pollination systems in agriculture for ensuring food security and supporting environmental quality.

This work is in collaboration with Laura Burkle (PI) and Kevin O'Neill (Co-PI) and is supported by the Western Sustainable Research and Education (WSARE) program.  To learn more click here.

Increasing sustainability of alfalfa leafcutting bee populations on alfalfa seed farms using floral resource management strategies.

ALCB

The alfalfa leafcutting bee (ALCB), Megachile rotundata, is the most economically-important managed solitary bee in the U.S. and the primary pollinator of seed alfalfa (Medicago sativa) in western North America.  However, U.S. growers often have difficulty sustaining ALCB populations, so must import costly bees from Canada.  Improved management strategies are needed that promote the long-term health and sustainability of this pollination system.

Bee reproductive success is tightly linked to floral resource abundance and quality, which are limited in alfalfa fields due to current practices focused on maximizing seed yields.  We hypothesize that addition of floral resources to field borders that flower after peak alfalfa bloom will lead to increases in the survival and reproductive success of ALCBs without negatively impacting alfalfa seed yields.  To test this, we have established alfalfa plots with and without flower strips and are evaluating the effects of floral enhancement on 1) nest establishment, foraging behavior, and reproductive success of ALCBs; 2) provision quality for and survival of ALCB offspring; and 3) alfalfa seed yields.  We will also 4) assess the economic value of this management strategy and 5) use our findings to improve methods for sustaining ALCB populations, and wild solitary bees, in agriculture.

This work is being done in collaboration with Kevin O'Neill (PI) and Laura Burkle (Co-PI) and is supported by USDA-NIFA-AFRI #11884368 (2016-2018). To learn more click here.

Bumble bees of Montana

Bumble bee on milkweed flower

Montana is particularly understudied with respect to its native bee diversity.  Our long-term goal is to develop a comprehensive bee species list and reference collection for the state, since no such information exists.

This work was done in collaboration with Amelia Dolan (project lead and recent Master's student), Michael Ivie, and Kevin O'Neill. To learn more click here.