Untapped Capacity: Our 4,000 Species of Native Bees
So many unknowns and so many potentials.
- In secret, Native Bees, not honey bees, do most of our pollinating
- Why we don't know the status of 99% of our Native Bees
- Why are there 400 Native Bees without names
- Why biodiverse native plant communities = biodiverse native bee communities
Location Taken: Menlo Park, CA, US
Presenter: Sam Droege, Wildlife Biologist, USGS
[ Background Conversations ]
[ Silence ]
[ Background Conversations ]
Welcome to the
U.S. Geological Survey
in another installment of our
monthly public lecture series.
It’s delighted – delightful to see
such a full house today.
I saw a preview of the
lecture this morning –
or, this afternoon at lunch,
and I know you will enjoy it.
But as usual, before I introduce tonight’s
speaker, I have some announcements
because I want you all to come back
and join us again next month.
Next month, Larry Mastin from
our Cascades Volcano Observatory
will be here talking about
forecasting ashfall impacts
from a Yellowstone
What he does is,
it’s not only forecasting,
but also hindcasting with
computer models and
weather and wind patterns and how
high in the stratosphere or whatever.
And he can actually model
in a predictive way of
what happens to a
large volcanic ash cloud.
So I think you’ll enjoy
that lecture next month.
It’s really tiny print here.
After that, in June,
will be speaking about mercury
in the Yolo rice fields.
Everybody know where the Yolo
bypass is on the way between here –
halfway between here and Sacramento,
before you get to Davis?
They grow a lot of rice there, and it’s
naturally there – pick up mercury.
And later in the summer,
we’re going to have – we’re going to
be talking about unmanned aircraft
and its uses in science monitoring.
So do join us in
the next couple of months.
We promise to
have good presentations.
So tonight, it is my pleasure
to introduce Sam Droege.
Sam comes to us from
Maryland, across the country.
He’s with our
Patuxent Wildlife Center.
So we’re very fortunate that he was
willing to fly out here and be with us.
He spent most of his career at the USGS
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
In fact, before it was
actually part of the USGS,
it was part of
Fish and Wildlife and so forth.
Sam has coordinated
the North American
He’s developed the American
Amphibian Monitoring program,
BioBlitz, Cricket Crawl,
FrogwatchUSA, and he’s currently
working on the design and evaluation
of other monitoring programs.
And some of those might be familiar
program names to you because
you’re the kind of folks that like to get
involved with citizen science projects.
I know you guys.
And there’s a lot of really
fun things to be involved with.
Currently, Sam Droege is developing
an inventory and monitoring program
for native bees, and that’s
what we’ll hear about tonight.
He’s developing an online identification
guide for North American bees.
And along with Eric Ross,
he’s reviving the
North American Bird
So enjoy the photos tonight.
They are especially spectacular.
You will enjoy them.
Please welcome Sam Droege.
[ Applause ]
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- I am talking. [laughter]
Now you’re hearing.
Okay, well, look at that.
So I gave – as Leslie mentioned,
I gave a lecture earlier today
to the in-house
scientists and things.
And then, like most of you,
when you have a lot of time,
and it’s a beautiful day outside,
you go outside and look for bees
and catch them because, you know,
that’s what you do. [laughter]
And so I went around the campus here,
and I looked at the bees that they had in
their lovely neat and trim plantings and –
including some native species.
And then I went across the street to
the Catholic seminary, which was
sort of disheveled, but they had lots
and lots of flowers and things like that.
And I came back with quite a few bees.
But I have to say that –
and this is really – feeds into the
lecture that the Catholic seminary
had a lot more native bees than the
U.S. Geological Survey. [laughter]
So it’s not allegorical
or anything, you know. [laughter]
Catholic church. [laughter]
I’m not – I’m stopping there.
But I want to talk
today about bees.
And as, again, Leslie mentioned,
we do a lot of work of different
kinds of surveys,
setting up surveys.
But I promised no statistics.
So we’ll just focus on
some of the larger-picture
messages about native bees.
You’ll see pictures here.
All of those are ones that our lab took.
They’re all public domain.
And I’ll have – our Flickr and
Instagram feed will be listed at the
end so you can partake of those.
They’re all available
And we even have
a book that the government
allowed us to put together
of bees of the world.
So you can enjoy them
at lots of different levels.
But everything is free.
So isn’t it interesting that, as a society,
we know an awful lot about birds.
We know an awful lot
We know a
real lot about plants.
And over the years, we’ve
accumulated that kind of information.
But we almost – I’m not going
to say “almost nothing,”
but we know relatively little
about our native bee species.
And the interesting thing,
to me, at least, is that we could
probably live quite well –
or maybe we’ll just say they’re
not nearly as important as bees,
meaning that birds and butterflies
are visually appealing, but not
necessarily as ecologically important
as the bee species that you’re
seeing cross the screen right now,
a lot of which are very much related
to the flowers they’re feeding on.
So I want you, as you’re looking at
these kinds of things, to think about
all this diversity in the floral world,
and the flowers, and the 75% of
the species of North America that are
native that are – require an insect –
mostly bees – to move their pollen from
one plant or another to affect pollination.
And so you have this counterpart,
which you can see in the florist shop,
or in your gardens,
between all these different colors
and all these different sizes
and shapes in flowers.
Think of the bees as having a almost
one-to-one correspondence with that.
There’s a lot more to
the world of bees than
you might think if you’re
thinking just about honeybees.
And if you’re thinking
about these kinds of things,
also think about the beauty that you see
in flowers is really, for me – I’ll just say,
for me, is also reflected
in the bee species that we
rarely spend time looking at.
Because many of them are,
you know, much smaller than the size of
a grain of rice or something like that.
But when you get to look at them
in full focus and in full – you know,
magnified to this level – those are all
sunflower pollen grains right there –
they become equally as beautiful,
I think, as the flowers that
they help design.
And one of the features about these
bees that I always find fascinating –
and this goes for flowers to some extent,
although, you know, flowers are
a little gaudy, I think, at the end of
the spectrum – [laughter] – is that
the palette that nature has chosen,
or somebody has chosen – I have
to be anthropomorphic – in bees is
a very, you know, well-done palette.
Like, there’s not – I don’t ever look at a
bee under the microscope and go, meh,
these colors just don’t work for me.
And so I think here we have
an example of, you know,
how we have received our values
and our ideals of beauty, but in a –
in a group that we have
hardly looked at at all.
So all these flowers –
this is one of the spurges.
This is something that you see
all the time because you’re
picking it out of the cracks in the
sidewalk and your – on your steps,
but you don’t really look at that those
are little, tiny flowers in there, too.
Or if you do, you don’t
see them at this level.
And this is here to point out that many of
our bees – and they achieve quite high
densities, even within your backyards –
many of the bees are really, really tiny.
All those little tiny, weedy flowers, and
not-so-weedy flowers in natural areas,
has a counterbalance of little, tiny bees
that are pollinating them and using them.
And because they’re small,
and pollen grains are rich in proteins
and lipids and fats,
and nectar is rich in carbohydrates,
it doesn’t take that many
grains to feed a baby bee.
So their densities,
despite the fact that
we don’t know much
about them, can be quite high.
So we’ll talk about
that a little bit more,
and we’ll talk about
the relationship with agriculture.
But I’m just trying to present this –
sort of a new way of thinking
about something that I think
a lot of us have thought about
over the years
in a very casual way.
And the other thing I want to
point out is that these species
split from our line
550 million years ago.
So they can be thought of
as little, tiny aliens.
Their architecture, their chemistry,
their sensory systems, their bodies,
how they’re put together
is extremely different from us.
And I think that’s a –
part of the things that we can
re-wonder a little bit by
looking at some of these pictures.
So this is nature. Nature has designed
things in basically two colors –
green – chlorophyll – active kinds
of things, and browns.
And flowers are a
extremely unusual and,
for us, very attractive
because of that unusualness.
You go back into – look at Neanderthal
burials, and you’ll see that there’s –
flowers are put in there
because it is such a
feature of the environment.
So even back then,
we were attracted to colors.
And that’s only there because
it’s a long-distance signal to bees.
So bees are
attracted to the flowers.
Because bees are only, you know,
a very tiny, tiny creature.
And when they come out of the ground
at the time of year that their plants
are blooming, they have to
connect with these flowers.
And under a lot of circumstances,
say, outside of our gardens,
flowers are actually a relatively
So the color is this
that has brought the
two of them together.
The bees don’t have the app
that says where – you know,
where are the flowers right now.
So that’s part of
the connecting theme.
So no talk can really
talk about native bees
without contrasting it
So the reason to bring up honeybees
is because we’ve all grown up thinking
about and learning and seeing,
at many levels, from cartoons
on down to television shows,
And in a lot of audiences, this is pretty
much the only bee – maybe they have
an awareness of bumblebees
or something – that they’re aware of.
And I tell people, okay,
if you think there is only one bee,
then there should only be the flower.
So – but to put honeybees in context,
many of you know –
probably most of you know that
they’re not native to North America.
They’re not even
native to the hemisphere.
an Asian group.
There are six to 12 species, depending
on who you talk to taxonomically.
And they have a
radical lifestyle for bees.
So among the many
thousands of species,
which we’ll talk about in a second,
they occur at one far extreme.
So the notion of their colonial lifestyle,
the queen living for multiple years,
the barb stinger, honey,
waggle dances, hives, waxy combs,
and pretty much right on down the list,
you need to just drop all that.
Because none of that really
applies to our native species.
They’re doing very different things.
And even though honeybees
occur on a different continent,
even in the Asian subcontinent,
where most of them are from,
the European honeybee is just
a straggler out to – that would be
to the west of the main core
of all the honeybee populations,
they’re radical even for them.
So this is
not a good model.
And I point out to people that,
if you look at this picture,
it looks like that
there’s long hairs
coming out of the eyes
of the honeybee here.
And that’s because
there are long hairs
coming out of the eyeballs
of the honeybee. [laughter]
Which is – none of our
native species have that.
It’s part of this extreme lifestyle
that they live, which is that they are
doing long-distance foraging, and they
have to – like many of you who,
I’m sure, are long-distance shooters,
going out to the range every day,
have to account for
the wind drift of your bullets.
I’m sure that’s – isn’t that
what all of you do? [laughter]
That this species also has to account for
the fact, when it goes 20 miles away
in its foraging or scouting trips,
it has to figure out how to get back.
And so that’s one of the many,
many different kinds of features.
If we went into the morphology,
we would see there’s many parts
of the honeybee architecture that’s
different from our native species.
So another part of it is that we have to
think of honeybees as a commodity.
So USDA is officially the federal
agency in charge of honeybees,
whereas U.S. Geological Survey,
while nothing that we really can say
that we have the same level of
responsibilities because it’s not –
while these are not commodities,
that’s how we separate things
There’s regulations, and therefore,
there’s accountability in terms of
how are honeybees doing
within the federal government.
And until – to date, this is one of
the contrasts I want you guys
to sort of take home is that we know
so little about the wild bees because,
until now, we really haven’t had
concerns about pollination.
Which is really a combination
between efforts by honeybees –
which are placed sometimes
purposefully, sometimes as
feral colonies – and the wild bees
that are present in an area
to affect the pollination
of our crop plants.
And certainly wild bees do most of
the pollination of our native species.
But the – so USDA tracks
And we’re not going to talk
about it in a lot of detail here.
You can ask
questions at the end.
But populations in terms of
are relatively stable
over the past two decades.
About half of what they were,
say, 40 years ago.
The big change is not in
decline in absolute numbers.
You can get as many
honeybees as you want.
It’s a decline in the – or an increase
in the mortality of the colonies.
So honeybee keepers,
particularly commercial ones,
have to replace their colonies
a lot more frequently now.
And what that indicates is the
vulnerability to the system.
And that’s why native species have
been increasingly looked at as filling in
behind – not for honey because they
don’t produce honey – but pollination.
And we’re learning
an awful lot quickly.
Again, we’ll talk
about some of this.
Okay, just some facts here
to give you some brackets around
what does it mean
to be a native bee species.
So worldwide, there’s about
20,000 species with names.
And elsewhere, we estimate
there’s 20,000 still to be described.
So if we look at this from
the bird point of view,
there really are essentially
no more birds to be described
except in very isolated circumstances –
you know, hilltops of New Guinea
that no one has gotten to –
those kinds of things.
So we’re about 100 years behind where
we are with plants, butterflies, and birds.
And just simple life history – just look
at the fact that we estimate half the bees
don’t even have a name –
haven’t been taxonomically described.
So our capacity for understanding
is very low despite the high utility –
I don’t want to use “utility,” but the
necessity of having these species around.
And so when we talk about needing to
shift to native bee species for pollination
or a concern over their conservation,
we’re lagging behind on
just the basic information.
In the U.S., 4,000 species
estimated to be there.
About 400 of those species,
even within the United States,
are estimated to
There’s not enough taxonomists
to simply write up things.
It’s not like – some of them
haven’t been found, so there are
places within the West in particular
that people haven’t visited
and physically have not
gathered a specimen.
But a lot of them have been gathered,
and people are aware they exist.
It’s just the person that
has to do the writing up
and giving of the name
doesn’t exist right now.
So this is the kind of level of –
you know, you don’t have that
with plants and butterflies.
That work has been done.
Diversity is highest in the Southwest.
So the deserts of Arizona, California,
and Texas is where all the diversity
of plants are – the divisions of –
ecologically by mountain range
and climate and the fact that a lot
of those places have been isolated,
have created a lot of plant biodiversity,
and there’s a lot of
specialization within bees.
And that has created lots of
different kinds of bee species, too.
Within any location – so it could be
your backyard, or it could be a region,
it could be a park, you have what I call
access to over a hundred species of bees.
Doesn’t mean that they
are nesting in your backyard.
Because your backyard could be
all non-native plants and a lot of turf,
both of which are negatives,
in general, for native species.
And in contrast, you may have bees,
and even some native bees,
coming to your
But you’re missing
which I’ll mention in a second,
of the fauna.
But if you plant, or you have –
more importantly, you allow parks and
other regional bits of native vegetation
to survive, it doesn’t take much.
Bees are extremely tiny.
No one’s talking about re-introducing,
say, bison to the peninsula. [laughter]
But the re-introduction,
or the permitting to stay around,
is really all about permitting the suite
of native plant species that exist within
a region to retain, at least at the
small level, and it doesn’t take much.
I’ll give you an example.
In Washington, D.C. – well, Maryland
as a whole, and the region,
we did a study the past two years
looking at bees that use
the vernal plants –
the spring plants –
that occur in forests of
different types before leaf-out.
So there’s a specialized
community of plants –
trilliums, spring beauties,
things like that.
And then there’s also a
counterpart of specialist bees
that only are
It’s all about pollen for bees
in those communities, too.
And we looked at
where the patterns were.
And we had an expectation that these
residual pockets of fragmented forest
only a few acres in size within
Washington, D.C., would have lost –
like they have for birds – you know,
find the warblers and things that used to
be there even though the tree and
the plant component is still intact.
But you do, it turns out,
find the bee component.
So they’re relatively immune, compared
to birds and other kinds of large
vertebrates, to the fragmentation issues
which hit these kinds of environments.
So it’s really heartening to see that these
species have good ability to disperse,
or to hunker down and retain,
because they’re small.
It doesn’t take a lot of space.
Your backyard, for example,
can be quite significant in terms of –
let’s call it bee refuges, or bee habitat.
The bigger picture is you
want to be working with
the local parks and
those kinds of places.
Some context here.
So estimated, roughly 2,000 species
of native bees in California.
Roughly 1,000 in Texas.
In Maryland, where I’m from,
about 430 species.
And, again, to illustrate the lack
of knowledge, about 100 of those
species weren’t on a list of Maryland
that you might form, you know,
let’s say 15 years ago
before we started.
And we added those 100
simply because we were
the only people with boots
on the ground throughout the state.
That’s, like, you know, you don’t see
that kind of thing with birdwatching.
You don’t see that kind of thing
with butterfly watching.
And even the people who now look
at odonates – the dragonflies and
damselflies – don’t see that large
of a fraction – a third of the species –
as not being even listed.
So again, a lot to learn.
The U.K. has a sort of
a interesting contrast.
Has only 250 species of bees.
So we’re rich in bees, and it –
you know, it illustrates one of the
reasons that we left the U.K. [laughter]
As an aside – an aside of an aside,
so one of the difficulties –
and I won’t talk about it a lot,
but if you have an interest in learning
more about bee identification, I can
send you links to the kinds of guides.
We have online guides to them.
Warning – all microscope work.
But the – one of the things
that compounds that – so we
have 4,000 species.
We really have 8,000 things that
need to be identified because
the string of identifications
for the males is always different
from the string of
identifications for females.
They look very,
very different, often.
And there are cases almost certainly
still on the books where a species
is described as
having one name.
Another species is described
as having a different name.
That’s the male, and that’s the female.
They’re the same.
People haven’t even,
you know, figured that out yet.
So if you’re bored, there’s things
to do with bees. [laughter]
Birdwatching – come on.
So a few more things.
20% of all the species
So they are like brown-headed cowbirds.
They lay their eggs in a pollen-carrying
species, and then bad things
happen underground, because that’s
where most bees nest, and the
parasitic egg hatches and,
you know, there’s some
kind of cage fight going on.
It usually doesn’t go well
for the host species’ baby.
I like to give talks about school kids
and have them imagine themselves
as the host baby, and then the monster
comes out of the wall. [laughter]
The teachers, for some reason, are not
as happy about that talk. [laughter]
But the kids enjoy it.
The nightmares later
is just not my problem.
Only about 1% of the
species are not native.
Not so much an issue now, but a rising
issue in that more and more species,
we track them, roughly,
as we find them, are coming in.
And now, in a couple
of the species’ instances,
they’re the dominant
member of a fauna.
So like ladybugs and
several other groups of insects,
we now have issues
with invasives ourselves.
What’s going to happen?
Almost none of that’s been studied,
so we’re just kind of
documenting things, in some ways.
This is an important one –
one of the most important aspects
because it leads to how you think about
the conservation of all of our native
species – how you retain that capacity
to use these species if something
changes or we need to involve them in
agriculture because we no longer have
access to the very convenient honeybee,
which is that about 20 to 25% of them
are pollen specialists.
That is, the mom bee feeds her babies
only pollen from one species
of plant or one genus of plant.
And it’s really interesting.
I give whole talks just on this.
You know, it might be cactus plants.
It might be willow.
It might be, you know –
we can – pickerelweed.
It can be wetland plants.
And there’s a whole variety.
The big difference is it’s
mostly not woody trees.
They have generalist bees of the
native kind, and a lot of our
perennials and small shrubs
have highly specialized species.
So you can probably
do the math.
You remove that component
of plants from the ecosystem.
Those bees go right away.
You don’t have those plants,
you don’t have those bees.
It’s pretty much as simple as that.
Surprisingly, some of
the specialist bees are specialists
on the very plants
that we use for food.
So the species like the squashes –
so pumpkins and the bigger gourds
and things – not the bigger –
not the gourds, but the larger zucchinis
and those have specialist bees
that only go to those.
Those are North American species
out of the Mexican highlands.
And also sunflowers.
So sunflowers have probably
something like seven or eight species
that only go to sunflowers.
Some of them only go to certain
members of the sunflower rather than,
say, the giant sunflower,
which we use in agriculture.
And other – the specialists
occur all the time on those sunflowers
in our agricultural fields.
About 5% are cavity nesters.
So many of you are aware of
mason bees or something similar,
about drilling holes in pieces of wood
or getting tubes or bee boxes
and insect hotels, if you’re really
advanced, and the crazy things that
Europeans do to create these kinds of
sculptures for bee homes.
Only about 5% of the species,
sometimes up to 10%,
actually will use holes.
And sometimes those holes are
the holes in the pith of stems,
so the brambles – the prunings
of raspberries and blackberries
are excellent places for
the minute carpenter bees.
And, you know, I have to kind of
restrain myself from getting too far into
the natural history for all these groups
because there’s too much to cover.
But just to give you some brackets,
and to point out, by contrast,
that the bulk of species
are ground nesters.
And these are – I can guarantee these
are nesting in your yards right now.
They are small.
They don’t defend their nests.
They’re all – almost all –
or almost all,
except for the bumblebee,
And they – you have no
real interaction with them.
You can stand right
on top of their nests.
Or even if they aggregate,
you could be in the aggregation,
and the males might
all be flying around.
And they – the last thing
on their minds is to sting.
allergic to them, either.
So you’re allergic
to the social hymenoptera.
So you’re allergic to honeybees, and
you’re allergic to yellow jackets –
which, as an aside, so someone – now
you’re – I’m educating you right now.
If someone comes up to you and says,
you know, I was mowing my grass
or doing whatever, pulling weeds,
and all these bees came out of the
ground and stung me
and stung my darling child,
or whatever, then you can
tell them, no, those are not bees.
Because they are never bees.
It’s always yellow jackets.
So the – but, you know,
if you look at a yellow jacket,
it’s, like, the cartoon
coloration of a bee – of a honeybee.
And honeybees, you know, are basically
a lot drabber than they show in cartoons.
So for the average person, a yellow
jacket is a bee, and it is stinging them.
But, you know, bees are getting a bad
rap for the yellow jackets in our lives.
Most are ground nesters.
Most prefer – almost all prefer
something other than turf to nest in.
So a little bare ground somewhere
within your garden or in your yard
is a good thing. Sometimes
difficult to do aesthetically.
That’s a big issue is how to make the
kinds of things I’m talking about
into an aesthetically appealing
change in how the landscape looks.
Native bees can provide
the bulk of pollination.
Now, there certainly are instances –
and a classic example, and perhaps
the one that is most difficult
to transfer is the almond crop
in the Central Valley
and California as a whole.
That species of tree came from –
I believe it’s the Middle East
or perhaps the Near East,
and it blooms very early in the year.
And most of the native species
are not active at that time of year.
Most native species come out for a brief
period of time, not throughout the year,
and they are locking into a native
plant species or group of species.
And February is not
when there’s a lot of action,
so there’s very few native
species out at that time.
Makes it difficult to do any kind of
pollination other than honeybees,
are looking at that.
Elsewhere, almost all the other crops are
really this intermix of native species
and honeybees, even if you have
honeybees present within the system.
And now that we’ve started
looking at this more –
in the past, we just –
it was a gimme.
Almost no – never was there a
pollination issue in terms of –
your crop problems were elsewhere.
It wasn’t pollination.
And so because it wasn’t much of an
issue, it was relatively little studied,
and we didn’t realize that, in almost
all crops, native bees are supplementing
or adding, or the primary pollinators,
even if the farmer can point to the box
of bees that he purchased or allowed
the honeybee person to be in there.
So as things become
more vulnerable with honeybees,
these are our replacements.
And what we’re trying to do is learn how
to manage the landscapes for promoting
the native species to come into the crops.
Because that’s mostly
what they’re doing.
Almost – and it would be rare that
the bees, because of the way
the agricultural fields and the
orchards are managed, can really
make it within the orchard
or crop environment.
Because it’s relatively toxic and highly
managed for that species’ things.
There’s plenty of room
for organics and other things.
But when you plow up the land, you’re
plowing up bees’ nests at the same time.
So in agricultural point of view,
because of these vulnerabilities,
what we’re looking at is that,
throughout the country, you have
different – I just showed, in terms of
just the number of species that occur
within different regions,
you have different groups of bees
with different capabilities.
The bees themselves have different
interests in different kinds of plants
based on the plant’s architecture
and what the female bee
is interested in providing her young
with in terms of pollen.
So that all makes it
much more complex
than bringing a box
of something out into a field.
So again, we’re beginning to
look at this more closely,
and it brings up the fact that we need to
learn more about this group of species.
And also we have to be more careful
about retaining those groups
so that we have access to them
as we shift in our agriculture
and an important set of pollinators
perhaps disappears from our area.
So different crops – different –
have – attract different species.
Different geographic areas
have different species.
So it changes even within a state, and
even across a relatively small region.
Just hundreds of miles, if not tens of
miles, have different bee communities.
So another interesting thing is that,
traditionally, if you talk to a farmer,
there’s sets of flowering plants,
like cotton, soybeans, and peppers,
that are – they would tell you
And indeed, they don’t
have to have a pollinator
of any kind visit those
flowers to produce a crop.
But what it turns out, though, is that,
in all three of those cases,
relatively recent work – again,
because there was no real need
to do this – shows that, when those
crops – soybeans, cotton, and peppers –
are visited by a bee for
whatever reason, the yield goes up.
So that’s an interesting perspective,
and it has gone up –
every single study
has shown this.
So with cotton it’s,
you know, boll weight.
With soybeans, it’s yield.
And with peppers, you know,
it’s bell size or whatever the
measurement of peppers might be.
And so if you think about agriculture,
you realize that most of the effort is,
you know, taming pests, increasing
capacity and productivity per acre.
And most of that’s been with
fertilizers and pesticides and
herbicides and GMOs and –
however you want to slice it.
And no one has just said,
well, if you had more bees,
you – basically you have,
you know, free money.
So here’s a place in a – in a system that
probably has – is getting – plateauing –
although who am I to say – in terms of
its capacity to increase yields.
And simply by interdigitating back
into that system bees – and all of these
studies have primarily been
looking at native species
that happen to be in the margins
of fields and around the edges.
Now, again, I should point out that
highly, highly industrial areas, i.e.,
the Central Valley, have issues
with this because they have lost
all their capacity in most places for
retaining native species because
everything is laser-leveled and used
or ditched and clean-cultivated.
Whereas, when you move out of
those regions, you have hedgerows.
You have stream valleys.
You have the borders of
fields that are woods.
That’s where the native bees are.
Native bees have high productivity, too,
and they just simply move into the crop.
They’re not going to get into
the middle of the soybean field.
But if you take, for example,
the grassy strips that are used
for erosion control and make them –
change them from grass to forbs,
then you’re increasing the likelihood
of increasing your yield because
bees would move into
those areas, too, as long as you
keep the pesticides out –
from knocking out those strips.
And additionally, [Ames] is doing
a lot of work with those strips
because, it turns out, forbs, i.e,
blooming plants, do a better job of
retaining the soil, which was the purpose
of those things to begin with, than grass.
Which grass simply flattens when water
goes over it in these big rain events,
which is where most of the – all right,
you know, I am taking too many asides
here, and we’re going to be here forever.
So we’ll stop with the
erosion thing, but bees good.
You know, there’s part of my message.
All right, so to kind of put things in
context, a lot of you, through the media,
have, I think, the impression
that bees are in trouble.
So certainly, honeybees are in trouble
in terms of their vulnerability.
Again, we don’t see the
absolute change in numbers.
But if you’re a farmer, and you need to
purchase your bees or rent your bees
or however the monetary thing –
over the last few years,
it’s quadrupled in price.
So that’s gone up.
But the implication has always been
that the native bees also have this
same thing going on, that they are the
same pathogens that are whacking –
honeybees are whacking
the native species.
This is not the case.
There’s some overlap, and there’s some
interesting new work looking at some of
these diseases as maybe at least
being passed on by native species.
But this is the good part of the radical
extreme lifestyle that honeybees have,
which is, because of the way their
system is set up, the pathogens and the
pests have to very much lock in and
adapt to that system in honeybees.
And that’s – that doesn’t translate to the
native species because their lifecycle,
which is basically, I lay my eggs in an
underground nest, and I seal them off
one at a time in a little cell,
and then I walk away,
has these huge
differences and breaks.
And the diseases and the pests are quite
different between those members.
So we don’t have the
honeybee issues there.
So it’s really difficult
to ascribe problems
that honeybees have
to native species.
And then, the other part is that
we know – we have no monitoring.
We have no Bureau of Census
for native bees.
I can’t give you any figures.
I can’t give you any stats.
I can tell you how to monitor them if
you wanted to find a mechanism to
purchase the, you know, ability of a lab
like ours to do the identification.
But right now,
we’re sort of in the dark.
This is as best
as we can do.
So we talked to the handful –
and I literally mean a handful
of bee experts in the east, and we
said to them – and we published this.
This is my great contribution
to science of status of native bees.
We said, okay,
over the last 20 years,
which of these bees have you seen on the
list of all bees east of the Mississippi?
And they just were, like, yep,
saw one of those, saw one of those.
And then we had –
there were about 800 species.
And there was this list
of 37 that was left over.
These had not been seen
by any of the handful of experts.
And it turns out the thing that –
the common theme among
all of those is that they all
were really rare to begin with.
So there weren’t many records.
It wasn’t like a bison situation
where we had tons of them,
and now we have none.
It was a situation where, well, they
always were rare, and it turns out,
since the paper was published, about five
of those species have been found again.
But there are so few people looking,
that it’s just a rare event thing.
It could be even locally common,
but in any state, you know, there
might be – the average might be one
person really working on native bees.
And most of the time, they’re working
in the agricultural system.
So our ability to detect anything
is simple as whether that species
still exists or not
is extremely low.
Again, think about plants, butterflies,
and birds and the whole communities of
people who are constantly searching for
them because they love doing that.
As a contrast, and we can’t even
come up with a proper list.
The other aspect, which shows this
component of taxonomy as an issue,
we not only have missing species, we
have some suspect species on the roll.
So back in the day, it took you –
to say that you had a new species,
you basically – you have to
do a publication.
I think this is a new species.
Here’s my name.
Someone reviews it.
It gets published.
Things were a little different
back a hundred years ago.
So it would be – you know, if Crawford
said he had a new species, people said,
okay, you know, he must know
what he’s talking about.
He would write a paragraph
that described that species,
and then you set aside a type specimen,
and to un-validate that – well, first of all,
your description is far too weak
because there’s many species
that probably look
just like that.
And they’re vague.
I can tell from firsthand experience.
And then the second part of that is that
the type specimen might be destroyed,
or it might be dirty,
or it might be ambiguous.
Or, more likely, no one’s looked
because there aren’t that many people
who look at these
kinds of things.
So a lot of the other species
on that list may simply be species
that already exist and that
species needs to be disappeared.
Or the males and females
are not matched up.
But again, I’m going on too long about
individual topics [laughter] that I find
extremely fascinating, but probably
of less and less interest as I go along.
So the bottom line is,
that is pretty darn poor
in terms of wanting to know
what the status of native bees are.
We just ask people, have you seen it,
and I just find that humorous that,
in a land that has NASA sending up,
I think, 36 satellites that circle the globe
and measure all this – the chemistry
and look at Landsat and all kinds
of other kinds of things,
and we’re spending a billion dollars
a year on that, that we can’t even
figure out whether we have
these species or not, and we
can’t even give them names.
I mean, the reality is, if you
asked the average person,
which is more important,
I think they could figure it out.
But it’s safe up there
in the satellite land, you know?
There’s – you don’t really have
to deal with a lot of details.
So here’s what we do know.
We do know that – because we
have lots of good data on birds,
even though the birds are not really
important, as I pointed out earlier,
[laughter] that – I can say that
because I used to run
the Breeding Bird Survey.
We have things like this.
So bobwhite quail, which is an open
country species, and it’s using the
kind of environments that we had
more commonly, which are rather
loosely farmed, lots of weeds,
the fields were a mixture of
crop and weeds, and the
roadsides were very open.
We lived in a landscape
that had lots of capacity,
just because we didn’t have the
capacity to make it all neat and tidy.
And so what we see
is things like this.
We see – red is areas of decline,
and blues are areas of increase.
So it’s pretty clear
that bobwhites are tanking.
And I can give you
lots of individual examples.
They’re declining everywhere except in
parts of Oklahoma and Texas where
rangeland is being invaded by brush –
another issue, but with a different flavor.
And that’s favorable habitat
for a bobwhite quail.
Not so favorable for
some of the rangeland management,
but that’s simply the
way the situation turns.
This could be a map for,
you know, the basic understanding
of native bees in the east or in
that part of an environment.
And the reason is that we’ve
gone from – these are just some of the
agricultural shots from Maryland in
the past, and you can see – and you can,
you know, stick in whatever
region of the country you want
for these kinds of things.
The place was radically different in
terms of how we managed our lands.
We didn’t have
access to herbicides.
We didn’t have
access to brush hogs.
We had, you know, manpower,
and we had lots of different kinds of
grazing animals, and we had
And we lived in scattered lots
at very – relatively low levels.
And we certainly impacted
the landscape greatly,
but there was lots of residual areas
where native plants could exist.
And so we have lost a lot of that.
And a lot of it has to do with
some other big changes that have
occurred over that same time period.
One is that there’s a big increase
in invasive species.
So as these invasive species come in, we
don’t – they don’t ratchet out other ones.
So we’re not ratcheting out an old set
and bringing in a new set.
They’re taking over big parts
of this laissez-faire roadside
or places that were not actively
And a pattern exists that,
because of the specialization,
but it doesn’t all –
so bees are on a continuum.
So we have highly
and we have species that
we would call generalists.
But no bee species or any group –
even honeybees, which is perhaps
the most generalist of all the bees –
finds all flowers to be equally tasteful
in terms of nectar
and pollen visitations.
So it’s just a matter of extremes.
Some only go to one family.
Some only one species.
Some one genus.
And others, just like –
honeybees are a good example.
Honeybees really turn their
noses up about cranberries.
If they’re going to do cranberries,
it’s, like, that is the only thing left
in the whole universe
for them to do.
And they will visit cranberries,
but they won’t like it. [laughter]
So a lot of times, when farmers
put their hives in cranberries,
the bees all leave and find
someplace, you know [laughter],
three miles away
to forage on.
And the bumblebee species, which are –
love cranberries and know how to
sing the right sonication songs
for them, and the other native species
move into the – what is a native
species for that group.
And we could go on.
So we’re losing big chunks of this
landscape that we’re not using to
invasive species, which don’t support
much in the way of diversity.
So they do support – you can
think of yellow sweet clover,
which is not a native group –
highly attractive to honeybees
and then a few of
our generalist bees.
And analog here would be to say,
you know, we’re doing okay
with birds because I
put out a birdfeeder,
and I get a bunch of birds
that come to those birdfeeders.
You know, sparrows, starlings,
and rock doves. [laughter]
And so no, you know,
birder in their right mind,
and even the local
person would say, that’s fine.
You know, we’ve now
taken care of birds.
Now we can take care of bees,
and we’ll plant a bunch of
yellow clover, or any of
the clovers, it turns out.
You are affecting the number
of bee product in an area,
but it’s mostly
the common ones.
providing bird food
for common species that
don’t absolutely need our help.
The conservation of bees
is all about the native species,
and changing these mixes from the kinds
of things you see in recommendations –
and those are good recommendations
because we don’t have this kind of
information on what the
specialist bees and what
the right kind of landscape
should be for native species.
And this is, again,
part of this learning thing.
beginning to do that.
And so we plant things
that are highly attractive
and easy to grow for seed
for a generic scent of bees.
So sometimes that’s useful,
particularly if you’re a farmer.
But the overall picture,
a little more murky in terms of
how that plays for the overall
conservation of all the species.
I should also point out,
this is another thing
that native plant societies can use
when they talk about why to
plant native plants, is that you are
providing the resources needed for
a set of bees that occur nowhere else
except on those native plants.
And to take that one step further,
you’re also providing resources
for a whole set of other insects and,
you know, microorganisms that
only exist and co-evolve with native
plants in the region that, you know,
as a society, we don’t really spend
a lot of time thinking about
pseudoscorpions or different kinds of
flat bugs, or, you know, aphids.
Except maybe that we like
or don’t like the way the look.
But native plants bring all that with,
and you don’t need to know
all the details of
which goes with what.
Just plant a long bloom of
these plants throughout the season,
and you’re already
doing a good job.
I don’t want to discourage you,
though, from learning the details,
but – and so email me.
You’ll see it at the end.
And I’ll be glad to
send you more information.
Here’s another factor.
Vertebrates out here –
might be wild pigs.
I’m not sure what your
deer or rabbit or goat
or fill-in-the-blank of
what eats things – eats plants.
But I can tell you that,
in all those cases, there –
except maybe wild pigs because they are
from Europe – but in all the other cases,
the native ungulates, they don’t go, wow,
look at all these invasive species.
They taste a whole lot
better than the native plants.
The opposite is the case.
They – when they build up populations,
they hammer the native plants,
and then the invasives have
yet another leg up to move into
those areas because the competition
from the native plants, which is often
sufficient to keep them at bay,
is now decreased because of high,
you know, fill-in-the-blank ungulate
population that’s around there.
Here’s just a generalized set of issues,
which is that, compared to, you know,
even 50 years ago, we are wealthier,
there’s more of us, and we are neater.
Because – and I think this is
a big thing for people to look at.
We have an aesthetic that
says everything should be
very corporate lawn
in its presentation.
And if you don’t do that, you are
a bad neighbor. [laughter]
And you are going to get the –
you know, the hidden arrows
of public disdain
sent your way.
So I throw this out that, for the
people who are now thinking,
well, I can convert my lawn to native
species, or my meadow, or whatever,
you should be thinking about
how to do that in an aesthetic way
to your neighbors.
You have to do it in a way
that says, I did this on purpose.
I am not lazy.
And you should like me.
And then, if you really want to be
successful, you would have the –
you would be the person or group
that switches the whole paradigm
so that, when someone has the
corporate lawn, they are seen
as the bad neighbor, and the people
with the native plants are seen as –
like, that’s the status quo.
When I come back, I’ll want
to see that happen. [laughter]
Clean cultivation – so agriculture is no
longer really bee habitat in almost all its
ways despite many of the crops needing
or being helped by having bees move in.
This is just too heavily
managed a piece of property.
Good in some ways, right?
If we didn’t have this increased
capacity on the – on the land
to produce more and more food per acre,
where is that food coming from?
It’s going to be in the
loss of native habitats.
Lots of layers of issues that
we’re not going to have time to go into,
We can talk about that, perhaps, later.
But the issues here are really different
from the conservation of all native
species because even the sides of these
agricultural areas are highly impacted.
They’re going to be almost
always mown or clean-ditched.
So the farmer has the same mindset,
which is, my fields look really good
because I plant them, and I, you know,
keep them clean and the weeds out.
But I also mow everything.
All my ditches have no –
nothing growing in them.
And some of the places where you have
food-borne pathogen issues, you know,
the idea is, like, sterilize it
so we don’t have any animals
moving into the spinach crop
So that is a separate issue.
Because even if you had a good, weedy
verge or something, that’s so disturbed
that you’re mostly getting your
crow and sparrow bees again.
Which you want because those are
effective pollinators in a lot of cases,
but it’s not the big
It’s mostly just, again,
I want to emphasize,
loss of good native habitat –
native plants rather than, you know,
moving the deck chairs around on
the Titanic of agricultural fields.
Is that a good analogy? I’m not sure.
So back to whining about
lack of information about bees.
So if we look at floras –
so flora would be a publication
of some kind of the
plants of blah, blah, blah.
And this is in Iowa.
And the – that was a joke.
Okay, never mind.
So the University of Oklahoma
has put together a list of floras,
and there are
over 2,700 of those.
Prior to the last few years,
when we’ve been more active,
and we produced a bunch of these, too,
the faunas – so the publication of a list
of the bees of a place – there were
somewhere between 10 and 20.
Period. That’s it.
So orders of magnitude fewer of those.
We actually have a list of all those.
So again, I’m just documenting
how little we know.
So there’s just not enough people
going out and learning.
That’s – we learn very inefficiently.
We need tons of botanists
to bring up the – raise the general
level of understanding about plants,
butterflies, odonates, birds – same thing.
Efforts of many people.
And the many people just
aren’t there for bees right now.
Every state has multiple bird books.
So by that, I mean, go back 100 years
and bring up to the present,
there’s – the average is three or four
state bird books – The Birds of
Connecticut 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Every few decades, someone
publishes a new one.
And we’ve actually used that to
track changes in bird populations.
so intensely done.
There’s one publication that is a state
book on bees, and that was the –
bees and other stinging aculeates,
so wasps and ants and its related kin.
So Connecticut – that’s the
place to be, I guess. [laughter]
Get it? That was a – I didn’t even
mean that. [laughter]
So if we look in the United States,
again, whining a little bit more,
there’s fewer than 10 people
who really could be given a collection
of bees that were collected
from your backyard or any other place
and then go through
and identify them all.
Irregardless of whether
there’s taxonomic problems,
there’s just not enough people who have
that natural history understanding.
And guess what?
Almost all of them have retired.
They’re still doing bee identifications for
people because that was their passion,
and they were the only ones left
because all the rest were let go by –
now I’m really whining –
by universities and the museums
that have also disappeared
because of what society expects.
So one of the things that I offer –
and I’m whining up here now –
is that if we want to
do something here,
we need to, in a way, be bringing
back this taxonomic expertise.
We need to have
This is why we do these high-detailed
pictures, to act as a online museum.
Because the access to the
graduate students and the researchers
who are doing bee investigations is that,
in order to do your identifications,
other than giving it to one of the fewer
than 10 people who are overwhelmed,
you have to at least compare your
results to a known specimen.
And those known specimens are
disappearing simply because museums
are disappearing as someone decides,
well, we need to cut funds.
Well, it’s pretty easy because
taxonomy is not sexy.
It doesn’t get you tenure.
And it seems like, oh,
we don’t need to do that anymore.
But the reality is, is that’s the
basis for a lot of our understanding.
We need to bring back,
particularly for bees –
because it’s a
There’s moral issues that we can
talk about, too, but you simply
can’t identify all the bumblebee species
by looking at them or taking a picture.
And the small bees, you can just forget
about it because of the difficulty in
tracking their numbers by – visually,
you just can’t tell them apart.
So native bees, native habitat –
on high-quality native habitat –
that’s your reserve
in any particular region.
We need a lot of them
because the bees are very variable.
The bees on top of
the mountain ranges here
are different from
the ones in the valley.
The ones in – as you go
west to east, are hugely different.
So I argue that, because of
all these factors that are moving us
to more and more locked-in landscape –
this is where people live, these are
where row crops are, and you
don’t have that dynamic –
people used to live here, now they’re
gone, and now these were farmlands,
and now they’re forest,
and now they’re back to farmlands,
and we’re doing things
in a very casual way.
We have to be
much more conscious.
So it’s a decision that needs to be made
as to how landscapes are used.
And we can’t just take on the –
assume that things will be okay
just simply because they
always have been that way.
I think we are moving,
as a society,
into a much more polarized set of
habitats, and we’re still growing.
So we’re going to
claw that out of the wilderness.
And we have to be careful,
and we have to think about
which chunks of land stay,
and which chunks of land can be used.
And I mentioned this before.
I think there’s this aesthetic thing, too.
We can do an awful lot if we simply
change what people find acceptable
in terms of how a landscape looks in
and around our homes and highways.
And just think of
So a big distributional
transmission line – you know,
one of these 500 kV things that are
moving our electricity around
from our wind power and whatnot,
and our solar panels, which are –
you know, are sprayed so that
there’s no native plants under them –
not that I’m whining about solar
panel arrays. [laughter]
Those places, I can guarantee you,
a transmission line through
suburban habitat is going to be
mowed every two weeks,
or whatever the counterpart is
in some of these drier areas.
Because that’s what
the local community wants.
So it’s your guys’ job to look at
shifting those kinds of aesthetics.
I mean, that’s, in some ways,
more important than some of
the other factors that we have
because those are opportunities.
Those don’t have to
be mowed areas.
They can be some of the
most valuable ones
because one of the few landscapes
that has to stay open.
So hug your taxonomist.
And think about monitoring programs
so that we can increase the natural
history understanding of the different
bee species that we have in our regions.
Because, as I’ve pointed out multiple
times, if you weren’t paying attention,
we’re in deep trouble in terms of
So this is the second-to-last slide.
For those of you who are interested
in our pictures – and there’s links to our
picture-taking videos and whatnot, too,
if you’re interested in the technique –
you can to go Flickr,
and you can download
all those pictures.
You can download all the pictures in
our book at the original – you know,
the most – what am I trying to say –
high-definition pictures are all there.
The ones I would give you, I would
just give you by downloading it myself.
They’re all free. You don’t have to
acknowledge us if you don’t want to.
And you certainly don’t
have to ask our permission.
And you can track us
now on Instagram and
have a picture or two
a day of some cool bee.
And we try to
blog it a little bit.
You know, what is that species, and
what does it do, and why is it cool?
And what cool thing happened
when we were collecting it?
So feel free to [laughter] tap into that
as much as you want.
There’s my email address. For those of you
who are thinking about some of
these more technical details –
I know there’s probably
a few of you who study bees,
or would like to study bees.
You certainly can
get in touch with me.
And we have lots of
links to those things.
Because this is designed
to be a general audience,
I haven’t gotten into
any statistics or how to count bees,
or the trapping techniques,
or how we think about monitoring.
Those kinds of things are available,
and if you want to learn, you know,
we have lots and lots
of tools for that, too.
And that’s all I have.
[ Applause ]
Do we have time?
Time for questions?
- Thank you, Sam.
I’m sure most of you –
you always have questions
every month, which we’re delighted.
And Sam’s good
at answering them.
In case you haven’t been here before,
we have two microphones.
We’ve got them set up on stands
in each of the two aisles.
I would appreciate it,
if you’re able to, to walk up,
stand in line, and walk to
the microphone and use it.
Not only so that the people
in this room can hear you,
but we stream these
live on the internet.
So other people out
around the world want to be able
to hear the questions as well.
And we’ll go back and forth.
If, for some reason, it’s difficult for you
to get to one of those microphones,
then just wave at me, and we’ll –
I’ll come to you with a mic.
But we already have
one person with one question.
Why don’t you go ahead, sir?
- Is it on?
It might not be on.
- You could shout.
- No. It should be on.
Mitch, is that mic on?
- You probably have
a loud voice, so …
- I actually do.
are not my friend.
Where do you fall
on the mulching question?
- Oh, are the mics on?
- As far as bare soil
versus mulched soil?
- Well, it turns out that …
- Repeat the question.
- Oh, so the question
is the mulching question.
So I only get this out here,
but it does have a generalization.
So should you put down mulch?
And how much does that attract
or repel some of the nesting species?
So many of these nest in the ground.
There’s a set of bees
that nest in rotting logs,
and mulch is the perfect
sort of habitat for them.
The problem is, is that it is
only a very small number of species
prefer the mulch.
So in general, you want to have
some bare ground for them to nest in.
But again, it’s a bee.
They’re really small.
So it doesn’t take much bare ground.
And so, like, a path where you tread
near your water faucet or the overhangs
in your house where it’s a little drier,
or you can do what there’s –
the only study I know of that actually
looked at increasing the amount of
nesting habitat for ground nesters,
they simply rototill a little patch
out of the turf, or the lawn.
I realize that a lot of people
don’t have, necessarily,
the kind of landscape in their
yard to do these kinds of things.
But if you can sneak a
pile of dirt or a bare area
somewhere where aesthetically
it’s okay, that’s a good thing.
They don’t –
it doesn’t take a lot of habitat.
You know, something this big is,
like, bonanza for them. [laughter]
You should be able to
find someplace to put it in.
Or they’ll nest in
your neighbor’s yard,
who never took care of their
yard anyway. [laughter]
Or under the kids’ play swing.
- Oh, this is a good one.
The Argentinian ants that are invading
California, has there been any studies
about how the bees – that native bees are
affected by this invasive species of ant?
- Not that I’m aware of.
Which doesn’t mean that there
hasn’t been those kinds of studies
because I know I’ve heard the studies
about how they affect
native ant populations.
But one would suspect it’s a problem,
but I really don’t know of any studies.
But I could say that for lots –
in terms of studies –
lots and lots of aspects
of natural history of bees.
So we don’t even know –
for many of these species, we’ve –
no one’s ever described
a nest to begin with,
let alone how it interacts
with an invasive ant species.
But that’s a good point.
- My – I actually have two questions.
And the first, you have sort of answered.
And that is, the – you know, the best
kind of habitat that we could provide,
say, in our gardens or our lawns,
is that bare dirt?
Just plain, bare,
Or tilled dirt? Or what is it
exactly that they really like?
- So I’m not advocating that you turn
your whole yard into a [laughter] –
you know, a bare patch.
- But hard-packed dirt is –
so different species have different
soil type preferences, so it’s really
difficult to be exactly prescriptive.
The idea is to not augment
your turf to a – the ultimate level.
So in most cases, if – and again,
I’m just not from this area,
so I don’t have this thing, but back home,
if you were a kind of, like,
I-mow-it person, and that’s the
extent of your turf management,
you have lots of bare patches
in your lawn anyway.
- Because things get thin
for a lot of different kinds of reasons.
And then everything’s completely fine.
So I would suspect that there’s –
and for lots of people who are
already caring for their lawns with –
or their yards with replacing their lawns
with native plants, that there are just
spots in there that are automatically bare.
And it doesn’t take much.
Just has to be a thin area.
- Thank you.
Then the other question is –
very specific – is about Vikane,
which is used here to kill termites.
And I’m wondering, is that a
biocide that also affects the bees?
- I don’t know.
I don’t know anything about Vikane.
- Thank you.
- If it – but I can – in a very general way,
if it’s an insecticide, it’s probably –
it will kill bees unless it’s one of the,
you know, Bt kinds of things,
which are specific to a certain group.
- Yeah. No, it’s not.
- So if it’s a pesticide –
if they intersect, however that is,
then it’s going to be a problem.
If it’s a soil application, for example,
and you have bees digging
through the soil, that’s it for them.
- It’s applied to houses.
And then they tent the houses.
- And then they release …
- Oh, so it’s a fumigant.
- It’s a fumigant.
- And then they release the tent.
- I don’t think that would be
probably much of a problem.
- Thank you.
- Hi. Are you familiar with
Gretchen LeBuhn and
the Great Sunflower Project?
- I know Gretchen well, yeah.
- Great. Thanks. Do you say –
you say anything about that?
Is that – because it’s a
social data-gathering thing.
Is it – if you just
talk about that a bit.
- Yeah. And, you know,
you might know more – in fact,
I texted Gretchen to see if
she was going to be around.
She goes, Argentina.
- Oh, okay.
- So I believe that wasn’t code for
anything other than, I’m in Argentina.
So I believe the program’s still running.
- Because her funding had ended,
but it sounds like it’s continuing?
- They just sent out a new request
for surveys, so yeah, they’re …
- The end of the month, I think, yeah.
- So if you’re interested,
it’s a good way to learn something
about bees without getting
all obsessed about all the taxonomy
and the species and the
things I’m whining about.
Instead of going, like, which bee
species it is, it’s categories of bees.
And you are using
which is a certain varietal of it.
And they have a procedure
which you observe the bees.
And then they look at the relationship
between the number of bees counted
and what’s going on in your yard,
your neighborhood, your area,
and associations with – excuse me –
the chemical, you know,
things going on
in the fields nearby.
So it’s actually a
very valuable study
and one of the few that can involve
pretty much anyone right now.
Because, again, it’s not a birdwatching,
because most of the things we do
is collect specimens,
and someone else
has to ID them.
In the future, if we were to project out,
we would probably be doing
molecular stuff, which would
up the need to have individual groups
be doing these
But right now, it’s most –
the Great Sunflower Project –
Gretchen LeBuhn –
is the way to go for doing things.
- Rats. The – that was my question.
It was actually – I really enjoy insect
morphology, and I did a bunch of bee
collection and identification in college.
Really fun to get in
a microscope and do that.
But your call for more taxonomic
or morphology experts versus
just grinding them up
and sending them to a lab.
While dark and
sort of bleak as a future,
it does seem like a really efficient way
to make that species identification.
So can you give us a little bit of
background on where cataloging
these species is right now
from a molecular point of view?
From, you know,
- Yeah. We’re actually playing
around with the edges of it now.
So at this point, you can take a –
let’s call it a bolus of specimens
from a trap or wherever
you’ve caught them and throw them
into a robot and grind – they’ll get
ground up and sequenced.
And then all those sequences will be
matched against databases that exist.
And it will tell you that,
here’s a list of species –
this is the robot talking –
this is a list of species that we think
is in your sample, and here’s a name,
and here’s the percent match to it.
The problem is,
is that this is all very new,
and we don’t have
the database, which I’ve –
over the years we send off –
oh, here’s a rare species.
We should get this
databased or put into –
have its molecules, you know,
announced and put into the database.
I’ve worked with this
database for a variety of reasons,
and there’s lots junk in it.
So it needs to be cleaned up.
And so we’re still
years away from functionally
being able to know nothing and
just throwing these samples in.
There’s many, many years of working
on what that taxonomic database
is before we can have robots with –
you know, going through all the DNA
of samples and creating the kinds of
information that we would want.
I feel – because I doubt very much
there’s going to be a sea change
in the number of taxonomists
that you can send specimens to
that we are going to see a –
you know, lots of specimens
being pinned up and
put into collections.
We’re going to see
this robot thing become
the way work is done
in terms of assessing change.
But right now, there’s a lot of
little bothersome little details.
Like, is that bee that’s listed in the
database really that bee, or not?
And, you know, so that’s where
the work is. Most of the work is there.
And plus, the traditional stuff,
which is keying things out
and comparing it like it
sounds like you’ve done before.
- Thank you.
- I should point out, we have this –
you can just Google it up.
It’s called the Handy Bee Manual.
And so if you even have vague interest
in how these things are done,
or who’s doing what, we try and –
we’ve created that manual for all the
graduate students and different groups
who are interested in bees,
and we discuss collecting, netting,
trapping, how to prepare specimens,
the pluses and minuses of visual surveys,
and other kinds of things.
So it’s all out there.
And again, you have access
to me through email.
- Thanks for the lecture.
Do all the native bees sort of
live together in harmony?
Or do some not like one another?
- Well, if you’re a – if you’re a
nest parasite, you know, you can tell
that they have – don’t have a lot of
friends [laughter] because they’re
integumates, so they’re – you know,
again, the analogies are really different
because they’re – is it keratin or
collagen? I think it’s keratin-based.
And they have – they’re armored, right,
to take the stings of the other insects
where they accidentally run into
each other in that dark tunnel.
And so they can ball up.
Even when we’re trying to put a pin
through them for a specimen, they can
be so difficult that it actually takes
a lot of effort for us to penetrate that.
So that means that it’s not all, you know,
this pleasant society of getting along.
For the species that are collecting pollen,
you don’t really see a lot of interactions.
They’re not defending their resources.
They might jostle each other.
being the aggressive of them,
which they’re in competition,
so let me just make a aside
about honeybees because that’s
something that gets a lot of –
that gets addressed a lot, and there’s
lots of beekeeping associations,
and I talk to them all the time.
So if you like local honey, you need
to have honeybees because none of
our native species produce honey.
If you want pollination,
you have, as we spoke about,
a bunch of different options.
If you’re worried about wild plants
getting enough pollination services,
you don’t have to worry about that.
You don’t have to provide honeybees
to do that kind of thing.
And in fact, you’re doing it
a disservice because of the radical –
again, it gets back
to this radical lifestyle.
They are storing honey, not to give to
you, but to make it through hard times.
Winter and during
drought-y summer times
when floral resources are really low.
So that means that they can
maintain high populations
when nothing’s going on.
And then, when the few flowers that
come up, which may be things that have
specialist bees on them, they’re all over
it because, you know, they can just go
back and, you know, tank up on some
more honey if they can’t make it.
So there’s huge competition at
resource-limiting time periods
between native bees and honeybees.
And other times, it’s relatively open.
The native species themselves are so –
because they’re not storing any resources
over time, they basically have no real
need to be antagonistic with one another.
So there’s not – and they divide
the world up a lot more.
So each of the species
is essentially fractioning out
a different component
of the floral resource.
- So I just want to confirm, it –
so if we have a honeybee hive
in the backyard, and we
plant a lot of native species,
hopefully we have
But if we don’t have
a lot of native species,
the honeybees may sort of
discourage native bees from coming?
- So honeybees will gladly use
native species of plants because
they’re generalists, you know,
with their least favorite ones on there.
In an urban environment, if you want
honeybees, I’m not going to try and
discourage you from having honeybees.
They’re really cool.
Native bees aren’t completely excluded.
There just is levels of competition.
If your concern is more about
native species or pollination,
I’m just giving you a way of
thinking about that that’s different.
So your key, I’d say here,
is in the – what you plant.
Because if you plant the sort of
more traditional clovers, mints,
and then some of
the ornamental trees,
that has relatively little attractiveness
to most of the native species.
And you essentially have
excluded them right there.
If you plant the native species, then the
honeybees and the native species have
many more opportunities to co-exist.
- Thank you.
- Does that make sense?
- Hi. Weeks ago, I had stopped into
one of our local hardware stores
and noticed that they were selling
these cavity nester bee kits.
- The cardboard or
parchment paper tubes.
And the deal was, when you bought
the kit, you didn’t get the bees.
You got, like, a coupon or something,
and you’d order the bees.
- Oh, interesting.
- And you would get the bees,
presumably in the mail or FedEx.
I don’t know the … [laughter]
I didn’t follow up on that part,
but my question to you is …
- They have to send them –
like, follow – they have a little GPS,
and they fly to your house.
- They could do that.
My question is, are you
familiar with this at all?
But more importantly, is this a
good thing, or maybe not so good?
Because then aren’t we introducing …
- … non-native species to a region?
And how would we know
one way or the other?
- So I would say generally
not a good thing.
Because if you simply –
you could do like I do.
You get out your drill, and you
get a variety of drill bits, and you
drill holes in your front porch.
Who would notice, right?
And so they’re lovely
to have around.
And that’s really literally
all you need to do.
That’s the main factor.
And they’ll re-use those holes.
There’s – if we want to
get into details, you know,
people will get – like, well,
doesn’t it build up parasites.
And I can give you the story
about how, yes, they do,
but you still will
have them anyway.
But the – they’ll be colonized,
even within these urban areas
in Washington, D.C.,
or all those – all of them have these –
a certain set of these
And the fact that you get them
from another place brings up
just the kinds of concerns
that you mentioned,
which is a lot of the time,
those are not even native species.
So I don’t know – I have not heard
the specific group that’s doing this,
but a lot of times,
you get Osmia cornifrons,
which is from the Korean peninsula,
Japan, southern China,
that was brought in as a orchard,
you know, helper-outer,
which we really didn’t need.
Another long story.
But it’s not native.
And a lot of times, those colonies have
pests that also come with them, too.
And at minimum, it’s very difficult
to say that the – even if it was
a native species, that it would
be one from your local area.
So all the same arguments
about using local eco-types
of plants would hold here.
So I would say, in general, no.
But making holes or using their boxes
and tubes – if you just put them out,
then bees and other little
solitary wasps and all kinds
of cool things will
come on their own.
You don’t need to have that.
So it’s not like you won’t get anything.
- Thank you very much.
I learn all kinds of things
at these places. [laughter]
Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County
have learned about one solution to
providing bare soil for native bees –
the ground dwellers.
Filling terra cotta
pots of different sizes …
- … with soil – native soil or
whatever might work, and just
putting them out on your property.
- Uh-huh. Do you – above ground,
or are you sinking them?
- Above ground.
Sinking it a little bit.
- Yeah. So stable …
- Into – so it’s stable.
- But other that – so that might work.
- Have you seen them nesting and
using it? Or is this a hypothetical?
- I have – I’m trying.
I haven’t seen any so far.
But I think it has
worked as far as I know.
- Yeah. I mean, I – it sounds promising.
It’s the kind of thing that any student
in here who’s looking for a project
should evaluate that kind of system.
Because I think that would be intriguing.
And also, it’s an aesthetic thing, right?
- Yes, it’s …
- Different pot sizes,
and it doesn’t become a …
- And you can choose – yeah, you
can choose where you want to put it.
I think some UC scientists have
prescribed this solution
as a possibility for bees.
Yeah. I would – I would love to hear
about, you know, how people see
these things working or
even potentially not working.
- I can also tell you that another way
to get the bare soil is to
release children into your yard.
I hear you can get them through the
mail, but they might not be the right …
Might not be the right eco-type.
- I know you don’t like
honeybees, but if you …
- I actually do –
let me just put this out.
I can slam honeybees all day long,
but I actually like them.
- If you want them to live –
if you stopped stealing their honey,
wouldn’t they – wouldn’t there
be fewer colony collapses?
- So I’m two buildings down
from the National Honeybee Lab.
So we talk all the time.
So colony collapse disorder is
actually an interesting phenomenon.
We’ve heard about it a lot because
it’s sort of a media – media loves
anything with bees, and it just
cycles over and over again.
So colony collapse disorder
is actually rarely now diagnosed.
There’s a specific set of criteria
that have to occur there.
And the pretty much widely accepted
idea is that colony collapse disorder
is really a presentation
based on a whole variety
of different components that have
come together to create this diagnosis.
So it’s not a one thing.
So it’s not pesticides.
It’s not Varroa mites.
It’s not, you know,
on down the list of pathogens.
It’s some combination of those things.
So pesticides might be weakening the
colonies, making them more susceptible,
as does, too, some viral pathogens,
as does Varroa mites, which are
generally seen as not something that
kills them outright, but something that
weakens the colonies and makes them
more susceptible to a large variety
of other kinds of factors
that impact that group.
So, you know, again, I give the –
I’ve met a lot of beekeepers
because I talk to beekeeping
associations all the time.
And I have to say –
I was talking to Leslie here earlier –
that they are, like, fanatics.
So I think – I think it’s a good thing
that they have – they are taking care of
honeybees because, if they weren’t
taking care of honeybees,
I would be a little concerned
about this group of people
just out there.
With nothing to do.
But they talk about that all the time.
You know, how much honey to take off,
feeding the bees – you know,
it just is a exercise in absolute minutiae
and passion at the same time.
So I can’t answer you directly, but just
go to a beekeeping association,
and you’ll get an earful of the latest
conspiracy theories. [laughter]
I should probably stop now.
[ Applause ]
- Well, thank you for
joining us this evening,
and I do hope to
see you again next month.
And thank you to Sam Droege.
[ Applause ]
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