Spring is here and bees are starting to fly across the foothills and plains. For these early season bees, finding flowers can sometimes be a real challenge. Although they are exotic, dandelions still provide an early source of pollen for many bees including honey bees and native bees. They are also a good nectar source for the male mason bee above.
Leaf-cutter bee development
Here's a picture of the development of a leaf-cutter bee species we collected in our bamboo nests. After eating all of the provisioned pollen within its cell, the last instar larva (left) molts into a new pupa (2nd from left). The older pupa (2nd from right) looks much like an adult bee (right) but is still developing it's wings and other internal anatomy.
For those of you interested in native bees, there's a new collaborative citizen science project to document occurrences of those big and charismatic buzzers, the bumble bees. At Bumble Bee Watch you can upload photos of bumble bees, learn ID, and check out recorded sightings in your area! I'm sure I'll be adding some photos to their database soon!
Also, another citizen science project occurring locally is The Bees' Needs. Through it you can help participate in a study documenting wood nesting bee species all along the Front Range. Details on both studies can be found on their websites.
Stem nesting bees
We used bamboo to collect stem nesting bees. This not only allows us to see which species are present, but also what types of plants are important for building and provisioning nests.
An important floral resource.
Sunflowers provide excellent forage for native bees. These ubiquitous, road-side beauties attract bees such as this long-horned bee (Mellisodes sp), but also a number of different insect which feed on the petals and pollen. You can actually see some petal damage on the right side of this flower. How these other insects affect pollinators and the plant are still relatively little studied.
Perks of the job
A big bonus to our research is just how much diversity we get to experience in eastern Colorado's landscape. For instance, a dinner break at Stalker Lake, near Wray, afforded me a gorgeous view of sunset. Surprises always lie just around the corner.
It takes a steady hand and great attention to detail to properly preserve insect specimens. Here, a group of Anthophorid bees have been pinned and arranged so we can see the details necessary to identify to species. Anatomical features such as the veins running through the forewing, the rear legs, and the mandibles can all be help identify which of Colorado's 1,000 bees these are.
Back in the lab
Collecting specimens in the field is by far the most fun part of our project. But once captured, it take many weeks of work in the laboratory to curate the collection and figure out exactly who each bee is. Josh (right) and Camille (center) are two Cu undergrads helping pin, label, and barcode all of our bees. Collin (left), works on data entry.
On our first trip out in June, I learned first-hand how quickly the weather moves across the plains. This spectacular view was heading east down HWY 36. Luckily, the rain and lightning passed quickly and the bees,although a little wet, still came out to forage.
Where we work
How to catch a bee!
Colorado has a huge diversity of native bees. With nearly 1,000 different species of bees, we need a number of different types of techniques to determine which bees are present in an area. We use three primary means of capturing adult bees as the forage across the plains: bee bowls (left) are small colored cup that we fill with soapy water. These traps sample many of the smaller bee species in the area. We mount them on rebar so we can adjust their height as the grass grows over the season. Vane traps (right) are really effective at capturing large-bodied bees. We also get a number of different wasp species (an added bonus). We also use handheld nets (not pictured) to catch bees that are foraging on nearby flowers. Finally, we place bamboo nests (center) along the edges of fields to catch bees that like to nest in hollow stems and wood. This can allow us to see not only what bees are in the area, but also look at the pollen that they feed their young to determine the most important flowers for native bees.
A big part of the project early on involves building the materials we'll need to survey for native bees. Here, Collin (left) and Camille (a CU undergraduate) glue PVC together to make holders for elevated bee bowls. We place these in the field to capture small bees. Photos of the finished product are on the way!
In May 2013, I finally met the high plains of eastern Colorado! Bernadette (2nd from right) gave the rest of us a great introduction into the history and ecology of the plains. On the left, Collin and Theresa (a CSU undergrad) demonstrate how windy it was.
Meet the Grassland Bee Team
We're very lucky to be part of a great group of collaborators with diverse backgrounds and research interests--all brought together by our common interest in native pollinators. From left to right: Bernadette Kuhn (CSU), Adrian Carper (UW-Wisconsin), Deane Bowers (CU-Boulder), Andrew Norton (CSU), Collin Schwantes (CU-Boulder), and Mary Jamieson (UW-Madison).
Burnadette is a graduate student at CSU and a botanist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Adrian is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an ecologist interested in native bee conservation and management. Deane is the curator of Entomology at the Museum of Natural History and professor in EBIO at Cu-Boulder. Andrew is a professor of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State University. Collin is a graduate student at CU-Boulder interested in native bee conservation. Mary is a Research Scientist in the Dept of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Here's a few thoughts, observations, and just cool entomological things to share. Enjoy!