UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As scientists struggle to come to grips with Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease threatening to wipe out domesticated honey bees in the United States, they have begun to cast a worried eye toward wild bees — trying to gauge their numbers, health and ecological status.
Researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are in the midst of several studies involving wild bees. Their aim is to develop a better understanding of the ecosystem services these wild pollinators provide and the importance of native plants to wild bees.
Nelson DeBarros, a graduate student in ecology, has spent much of the last two summers beside plots of native plants at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, observing their comings and goings with binoculars and a camera.
DeBarros then teamed with Tara Gareau, a Penn State post-doctoral researcher in entomology from Garden City, N.Y., in publishing a handsome publication called “Conserving Wild Bees in Pennsylvania,” which features 23 of DeBarros’ exquisite photos showing bees on the flowers of native plants.
Gareau said the researchers created the conserving wild bees publication because they want to help people implement conservation practices that would protect or enhance pollinator populations that are critical to both agriculture and natural ecosystems.
Gareau noted that recent studies by ecologists such as DeBarros suggest that wild bees are perhaps more important than even agricultural scientists realized.
She said wild bees can play a major role in the pollination of crops; some studies show that in certain cases wild bees are providing the majority of pollination.
More benefits. Wild bees are actively pollinating at lower temperatures when domesticated European honey bees are still in their hives, Gareau pointed out, expanding the window of pollination for crops.
“It is best to have a diverse community of pollinators,” she said. “
Relying solely on domesticated bees — especially in the face of Colony Collapse Disorder — may prove to be problematic,” said Gareau.
Free copies of Conserving Wild Bees in Pennsylvania can be obtained by Pa. residents through county Penn State Cooperative Extension offices, or by contacting the College of Agricultural Sciences at 814 865-6713.
E-mail at AgPubsDist@psu.edu for more information or visit http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uf023.pdf.