This entry is from Angelee Calder, and undergraduate Agricultural Science student at Oregon State University. It highlights a bumblebee that can be found in Oregon gardens, but that is currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ to endangered species status, due to documented population declines (Hatfield et al. 2015).
When we think of bees, we usually conjure up the image of a cute fuzzy black and yellow puff of an insect. Bombus fervidus, which is also known as the Golden Northern Bumble Bee,looks just like that cute bee stereotype. This bumble bee has a black face, yellow body, and single black band across its body near its wings (Discover Life 2019). Although Bombus ferviduscan be found across most of the whole United States, studies have shown that their population numbers are declining (Colla and Packer 2008). This bee is attracted to clover, which is one reason to tolerate (or even embrace) clovers in residential lawns.
We spent 120 hours hand collecting bees from 24 Portland area gardens in 2017 and 2018. In addition, across these two years we set out water pan traps to collect bees for an additional 3,450 hours of passive collection. In all this time, we only collected two Bombus fervidus. Both were collected from the same yard in August 2018. This yard is our largest garden, and it sits adjacent to Forest Park. It could be that this species, known to be in decline, does best with larger patches of habitat, that are close to a natural area.
The Northern Golden Bumble Bee is in the running for cutest bee, so make sure to take a look while he is out foraging. The peak viewing times to catch a glimpse of these cuties May to October (BugGuide.Net 2019).
Colla and Packer. 2008. Evidence for decline in eastern North American bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with a special focus on Bombus affinis Cresson. Biodiversity and Conservation 17: 1379. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-008-9340-5.
Last November I took a look at a Pacific Northwest favorite, the Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum (1)). What I didn’t know then was just how popular this species would be with the bees we had been sampling in the field. It turns out that while surveyed gardeners ranked Douglas aster 14 out of 27 in terms of attractiveness, based on the 2017 data it boasted the third highest number of bees (2). This means that it is the most attractive native perennial species for bees that we sampled, and the 2018 data shows this as well (3). Based on the gardeners’ ranking, however, which placed it in the bottom 50% of all the species we sampled, it also looks as though the Douglas aster is in need of some public relations help.
It is my personal belief that it isn’t just the showiness of the blooms or the potential benefits to X, Y and Z that brings plants into our gardens, but rather the stories we tell about them. Familiarity after all is more than just recognition; it is also marked by appreciation and understanding. One of the stories we can tell through our work in the Garden Ecology Lab about Douglas aster is of its relationship with our native bees. As gardeners we are uniquely positioned to both benefit from and to be of service to these insects.
Here are some of their “faces”:
The most common genus of bees collected from Douglas aster in the field, Melissodes are true summer and fall flyers, easily recognizable by their long antennae. These bees are solitary ground nesters, although they have been observed forming nesting aggregations in the soil (4). While we collected potentially five species of Melissodes in total, one species in particular, Melissodes microsticta, was especially common. Many Melissodes species are generalists, but can usually be found visiting members of the Asteraceae family (such as sunflowers and our Doulgas aster) because of their late season blooms.
The second most commonly collected visitor of Douglas aster, the yellow-faced bumblebee is really a remarkable native pollinator. While many native bees are considered solitary, bumble bees are social insects, with a queen and workers (4). Like non-native honeybees, they have been investigated for their potential as commercial pollinators, being used in greenhouse production (5). Isabella Messer wrote a post for the “Pollinator of the Week” series highlighting these ubiquitous bees that can be found here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2017/08/29/pollinator-week-yellow-faced-bumble-bee/
Ligated Furrow Bee
The third most commonly collected visitor of Douglas aster is the ligated furrow bee. Found throughout North America, Halictus ligatus is special amongst native pollinators (like the yellow-faced bumblebee) for its social nature (4). Sociality is rare amongst native bees, as it is in nature in general, but amongst the Halictus the situation is even more unique. This is because, unlike other social species, Halictus have been seen to switch back and forth between solitary and social behaviors over time as environmental conditions differ (4). Isabella wrote a post about these bees a while back for the “Pollinator of the Week” series that can be read here: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/gardenecologylab/2018/04/30/pollinator-week-mining-bee/
In addition to these bees, we also collected striped-sweat bees (Agapostemon texanus/angelicus), brown-winged furrow bees (Halictus farinosus), metallic sweat bees (Lasioglossum sp.), and common little leaf-cutter bees (Megachile brevis). We also collected with a number of long-horned bees (Melissodes) that have yet to be identified to species.
Walking the streets of Portland and seeing Douglas aster’s purple flowers still in bloom this late in October brings a smile to my face because it tells me that people are indeed planting this species. If only for its benefit to wildlife and pollinators in particular, that is still good news. As you may be able to tell from the information given above, we are still learning about these bee species while we are simultaneously working to save them — not just for future generations but for ourselves as well. Hopefully, by putting a “face” to the bees that visit and depend on these plants and our gardens, the bond that links us to them can be strengthened and our preference for them in our landscape enhanced.
Wilson, J. S., & Messinger Carril, O. (2016). The Bees In Your Backyard. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Dogterom, M. H., Matteoni, J. A., & Plowright, R. C. (1998). Pollination of Greenhouse Tomatoes by the North American Bombus vosnesenskii. Journal of Economic Entomology, 91(1), 71-75. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/jee/91.1.71
Aaron’s webinar on his Ph.D. research has been posted on YouTube.
He highlights some really interesting results from his 2017 and 2018 field seasons, including recommendations for what to plant, if you are interested in attracting native bees to your garden. I’ve asked him to write a blog post, summarizing the results to readers.
This entry is from Lucas Costner, an undergraduate horticulture major at Oregon State University. It highlights one of the plants that Aaron Anderson is using in his research.
As summer in the Pacific Northwest comes to a close, the sunflower (Helianthusannuus) stands out as a classic garden favorite deserving consideration. These commonly large, tall yellow flowers are a boon to wildlife, provide late summer height and interest in the garden, and have shared an interesting relationship with people wherever we have encountered them.
While there are many individual species and varieties available on the market today, wild populations can be found across North America, and most boast popularity with insect pollinators and other wildlife, including birds (1, 3). In the field, Aaron is using the wild-type and, while you certainly don’t have to do the same, varieties marked as “pollenless” or double-petaled should be avoided when planting for wildlife (3). Sunflowers seeds are well-known for their attractiveness to birds, but the flowers also provide forage to a diverse suite of insects, including bees, wasps, butterflies, and even beetles (2, 3). Four genera of native bee species (Diadasia, Eucera, Melissodes, and Svastra) host members that are sunflower specialists, and the giant leafcutter bee (Megachile pugnata) has even been studied as a managed pollinator for agricultural production of the crop (3).
Originally domesticated in eastern North America, the sunflower is the only native seed oil plant (1). Its use among North America’s indigenous peoples is well-documented and varied, having been used for everything from food to dye to medicine (2). The sunflower was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, where it first found its place in gardens, but it wasn’t until the 1800s in Russia that our modern ideas of giant, towering sunflowers came to be (1). This is because early American colonists did not cultivate sunflowers, and the seeds were reintroduced from Russia to the United States in 1893 (2). The Russians bred sunflowers that could produce up to 1000 seeds each for oil production, since the Russian Orthodox Church had forbidden the use of other cooking oils during the Lenten season (1). Therefore, in comparison with many common varieties available, and despite 3,000 years of domestication by indigenous peoples in North America, the wild-type appears quite diminutive (2).
No matter the variety, gardeners should be aware that sunflowers are annual flowers that will need replanting every spring (although allowing squirrels to do the planting could be a fun experiment). They prefer well-draining soil and can reach rather impressive heights depending on the exact species and type. Additionally, the stems can become woody and may require some work removing at the end of the season.
Simpson, B. B., & Connor, M. (2014). Plants in Our World: Economic Botany (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Stevens, M. (2006, June 7). Plant Guide: Annual Sunflower [PDF]. Davis: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center.
The Xerxes Society. (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
In 2017 and 2018, Aaron and Lucas took weekly counts of bees on their native plant plots. Aaron has summarized the data for 2017 (below) according to bee morpho-type. The morphotype categories are the same general categories that have been used by other researchers: bumblebee, honey bee, green bee, small bee, and big bee. These major bee categories are fairly easy to distinguish from one another in the field. Although, Aaron and I talked quite a bit about whether or not we should combine big bees and small bees into a new category: other bees. When does a small bee become a big bee? We had a general sense that a large Megachilerotundata would be a big bee, and a small Ceratinasp. would be a small bee. But, what about a smaller Megachile species? Is that big bee or a small bee? There is no clear answer.
Aaron and Lucas kept records of big bees vs small bees, as best as they could, but in the end, we might collapse all of that data into an ‘other bee’ category.Aaron recently surveyed gardeners, to ask their opinion on the aesthetics of his study plants. A quick look at the results suggests that gardeners and bees might be attracted to different flowering plants. While Gilia capitata was the most visited plant in Aaron’s study plots, it was ranked 6th most attractive (out of 27 plants) by gardeners. The story gets worse for Madia elegans (2nd with bees, 20th with gardeners), Aster subspicatus (3rd with bees, 14th with gardeners), and Solidago candensis (4th with bees, 23rd with gardeners).
Could it be that bees and gardeners are truly attracted to different types of flowering plants? Or could it be that if gardeners knew about the benefits of these Willamette Valley natives, that they might see a new kind of beauty in these plants?
We are so lucky that Lincoln Best has been in Oregon, supporting the work of the Oregon Bee Atlas. Linc was kind enough to take a look at Aaron’s bees, before going back to Canada. Aaron is currently taking a bit of time off, following his wedding this past weekend (Congratulations Aaron and Maura!). In everyone’s absence, I’m chomping at the bit to see what bees were identified from Aaron’s study of Willamette Valley native plants. So ~ for your reading pleasure, here is a preliminary list of bees collected from Aaron’s plant plots.
A few things to note about this list:
I give no mention of abundance of each bee species. Some specimens were caught many, many times off of a flowering plant species. Others were rare, and only caught once.
This list is not all-inclusive. It’s Labor Day. I’m working. I got excited about the bees, and wanted to share. But, I am not carefully going through every small label.
Some bees were only found on one or two flowering plant species ~ even though Aaron’s plots are all in the same 3 acre field (1X1m plots, with each plot separated from every other plot by 6 m).
Yellow-faced bumblebees were collected off of most plants ~ so I am not listing them, below. I also did not look at the honey-bee plant associations.
Linc dissected male genitalia (yes ~ that is how you need to ID some bees to species), and found FOUR Bombus calignosus (all associated with lavender)~ a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.
We also have Bombus fervidus, another species on the IUCN Red List (Vulnerable) on lavender, Salvia, and Gilia.
I’ll leave it to Aaron to make a rigorous accounting of bee-flower associations. But for now . . . on this holiday weekend, I was too excited to not take a peek and share initial findings with all o fyou.
In this paper, we estimated how far the bees we collected from our Garden Pollinators Study could move between gardens and pollination-dependent cropland. We found that when pollination-dependent crops (commercial-scale or residential-scale) are nearby, 30–50% of the garden bee community could potentially provide pollination services to adjacent crops.
But, we currently know so little about bee movements in complex landscapes ~ if and how bees move across roads or through gardens embedded in housing developments. This question will be a focus of our future work.
All bees have been pinned, labelled, and data-based. Now we’re (and when I say ‘we’re’, I’m mostly referring to Lucas and Isabella) are going through the painstaking process of photographing all specimens: head on, from the top, and from each side. We’ll then start sorting them by morphotype (how they look), and working to identify them. Some of the bees are very common, and fairly easy to identify (like Anthidum manicatum, Bombus vosnesenskii, Apis meliifera). Others will take a bit more time and expertise to get to species.
You can take a look at the entire album, representing about 150 of the nearly 700 collected bees. We’ll be adding the rest of the bees, as we can.
We collect and pin the bees, because most are difficult to identify, without getting them under a microscope, and without the help of a museum-level bee specialist. For those bees that are easy to identify by site (such as the ones listed above), we only collect one per garden (so that we have a record of its presence). We don’t collect multiple specimens of the same species, if we can identify it in the field. And, we don’t collect obvious queens (larger, reproductive bees).
We collect using a combination of water pan traps and hand collection. For hand collection, we use a pooter (an insect aspirator) for the smaller bees and baby food jars for the larger bees.
This is such an exciting part of the research for me. I find myself obsessing over the photos, trying to organize them in my mind, and to at least get them to genus. Grouping them by genus makes it easier for an expert to sort through and identify them. And, I’m so grateful for their assistance, that I want to make it as easy as possible for them!
We’ve collected bees from gardens near Forest Park, in Portland’s city center, and in outlying suburbs. We’ll analyze the data to see if there are any patterns associated with garden location (forest, city, suburbs), or to see if there are specific bees that are only found in forest gardens, for example.
This entry is from Isabella Messer an undergraduate horticulture major at Oregon State University. It highlights one of the most common pollinators that we see in Portland area gardens.
Out of the twenty four different garden sites we visit, each month in Portland, we can count on one bumble bee being present in almost all of the gardens. This ubiquitous bee is Bombus vosnesenskii, otherwise known as the yellow faced bumble bee. With increasing evidence that some bumble bee populations are declining, Bombus vosnesenskii populations remains stable (1).
B. vosnesenskii is a very common bumble bee of increasing abundance across the western United States, although it ceases to be very common east of the Sierra Cascade Crest in California(2). B. vosnesenskii is most easily identified by the yellow hairs on the top of the head, on its face, on top of its thorax (middle body part), and as a yellow band at the base of their abdomen (bottom and biggest body part) (2). In terms of the flowers and plants that B. vosnesenskii likes to visit, they are broad generalists (3). This means that they like to visit a broad variety of plants. They are considered ‘medium tongue’ bees, which means that they can drink nectar from a wide array of flowers, with floral morphologies ranging from zinnias, to coneflowers to rhododendrons. Keep an eye out for their yellow heads the next time you are out in the garden and it is very likely you will come across one.
Lozier, Jeffrey D., James P. Strange, Isaac J. Stewart, and Sydney A. Cameron. (2011). Patterns of range-wide genetic variation in six North American bumble bee (Apidae: Bombus) species. Molecular Ecology, volume 20(23), pp 4870-4888.
Koch, Jonathan, James Strange, and Paul Williams. Bumble Bees of the Western United States. US Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership. PDF.
Tepedino, V.J., Laura C. Arneson, and Susan L. Durham. (2016). Pollen removal and deposition by pollen-and nectar collecting specialist and generalist bee visitors to iliamna bakeri(malvaceae). Journal of Pollination Ecology, volume 19(15). Pp 50-56.