Grantee Research Project Results
Native Bee Conservation Across Wild and Agricultural LandsEPA Grant Number: U915966
Title: Native Bee Conservation Across Wild and Agricultural Lands
Investigators: Smith, Sarah A.
Institution: Princeton University
EPA Project Officer: Boddie, Georgette
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through September 1, 2002
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001)
Research Category: Fellowship - Terrestrial Ecology and Ecosystems , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration
More than 100,000 animal species are pollinators, which transfer pollen from the male flower parts to the female flower parts to facilitate plant reproduction. Pollinators are important to wild plants, with at least 90 percent of flowering plants requiring animal pollination for reproduction. Because many crops require pollination by animals, about one-third of the food eaten in the United States directly or indirectly requires pollinators. Bees, which eat nectar and pollen from flowers, are the most important pollinators. Pollination of most U.S. crops has traditionally been attributed to honey bees, which are native to Africa, Europe, and Asia, but were introduced to the Americas by Europeans. However, 40,000 bee species exist worldwide; nonhoney bees, such as bumble bees and solitary bees, pollinate many wild and agricultural plants in the United States and elsewhere. Today, bees and the plants they pollinate may be threatened, with disruptions in pollinator systems reported from every continent except Antarctica. The objectives of this research project are to: (1) conduct intensive surveys to determine the identity and abundance of sunflower visitors; (2) assess how well each species pollinates sunflowers; and (3) determine how the proximity to wild lands affects the abundance and diversity of crop pollinators by surveying sunflower visitors at several different farms and by using a geographic information system (GIS).Approach:
The loss of pollinators would affect not only our food supply, but also many wild plant populations and ecosystem function. For the component of my research project dealing with crop pollination, I have selected sunflowers as a model crop. Most agricultural pollination services have traditionally been attributed to honey bees, but my pilot investigation suggests that many wild bee species (nonhoney bees) are common sunflower visitors. I will conduct intensive surveys to determine the identity and abundance of sunflower visitors. Because not all species have equal pollinating abilities, I will assess how well each species pollinates sunflowers. Finally, by surveying sunflower visitors at a number of different farms and using a GIS, I will determine how the proximity to wild lands affects the abundance and diversity of crop pollinators. Although the result of Objective 3 would suggest that wild lands are important to bees, a cause- and-effect relationship cannot be established by a simple correlation. Therefore, I will directly investigate how bees move between and within wild and agricultural lands and what resources they utilize from these different habitats. Thus, Objective 2 of my research project focuses on bee ecology. To increase bee abundance, or halt declines, we must first determine what factors are likely to limit bee populations. Two potentially limiting resources are floral resources (pollen and nectar) and nest sites. Through a series of observational case studies and experiments, I will determine floral resource and nest-site requirements of one or several wild bee species. Additionally, I will investigate how bees move back and forth between wild and agricultural areas. For example, bees may acquire floral resources from blooming crops, but rely on nesting resources in wild lands. Wild lands also may provide critical floral resources at times of the year when crops are not blooming, and vice versa.Supplemental Keywords:
fellowship, native bee conservation, wild plant populations, bee ecology, bee abundance, pollination, pollinators, bee populations.