Improving Forage for Honey Bees on USDA Conservation Lands: A Pilot Study for Testing Sampling Methods and Hypothesis Development

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Commercial beekeepers have been bringing their bees to the Northern Great Prairie (NGP) for many decades due to the availability of nectar and pollen-rich plants in abundant grasslands.  

Since 1985, many millions of acres of restored grassland have provided important honey bee forage consisting of mixed forbs through conservation programs administered by the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.  However, escalating values of agricultural crops, especially those for bio-energy has reduced the willingness of landowners to enroll or re-enroll in conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  As conservation acreage area has declined, there has been an increasing need to improve the habitat for honey bees and other pollinators on federal conservation program lands.  

We are determining the plant species being utilized by honey bees to improve pollinator forage on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation lands.  This study provides an empirical evaluation of floral resources used by bees, and the relative contribution of those resources to honey bee health and productivity. Products resulting from this study include an evaluation of cost-effective seeding mix options that can be used to enhance honey production and improvement of the health and fitness of honey bee colonies on USDA program lands. Furthermore, we will conduct an assessment of honey bee habitat and forage quality for current USDA programs and practices. Our efforts will be replicated in multiple states throughout the NGP to address regional difference in plant community composition and honey bee diets.


  1. Determine what plants are utilized most often for pollen

With our data we will evaluate planting mix options to improve forage quality for managed honey bee colonies on USDA conservation stewardship lands in the NGP. 

Related Publications:

  1. Cornman, R.S., C.R.V. Otto, D. Iwanowicz, J.S. Pettis. 2015. Taxonomic characterization of honey bee (Apis mellifera) pollen foraging based on non-overlapping paired-end sequencing of nuclear ribosomal loci. Plos One
  2. Smart, M.D., R.S. Cornman, D.D. Iwanowicz, M. McDermott-Kubeczko, J.S. Pettis, M.S. Spivak, C.R.V. Otto. 2017. A comparison of honey bee-collected pollen from working agricultural lands using light microscopy and ITS metabarcoding. Environmental Entomology 46(1): 38-49.
  3.  Smart, M. C. Otto, R. Cornman and D. Iwanowicz. 2017. Using colony monitoring devices to evaluate the impacts of land use and nutritional value of forage on honey bee health. Agriculture 8(2):


Honey bees

Hive manager pulling out a frame to check on the honey beesHive manager pulling out a frame to check on the honey bees.

(Credit: Sarah Scott, USGS. Public domain.)