There haven’t been many positive stories about bees in the news lately. But in 2008 a bee inventory and monitoring program began at The Nature Conservancy’s Four Canyon Preserve in Oklahoma which has found two species new to science.
The following is a guest post written by Mike Arduser which explains the important roles bees play in the ecosystem and the two species that have been found.
Mr. Arduser is a natural history biologist and insect Heritage biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He has authored or co-authored a number of popular and technical publications on bees and pollination ecology and is working on a book about tallgrass prairie bees.
Bees are essential organisms in most terrestrial natural communities because of the pollination services they provide to plants. While many other insect groups visit flowers and some of these (like butterflies and hover flies) are pollinators, bees rank as premier pollinators because of their dependence on pollen as food for their offspring, and their nesting behavior.
These characteristics require female bees to forage for pollen from a central point (the nest) and repeatedly visit the same flowers over time. Since most plants require multiple visits to their flowers to maximize seed set and fruit production, bees are the perfect fit.
Many plants have evolved to require bees, and often certain kinds or sizes of bees, for pollination. Wild blue indigo, Baptisia australis, is a good example – the flowers can only be pollinated by large bees like bumblebees.
Concerns about the health and decline of our pollinators, especially bees, have increased over the past decade or so. The National Academy of Sciences released a lengthy report in 2007 titled “The Status of Pollinators in North America,” which pointed out that the lack of baseline information and absence of monitoring programs for most native pollinators made it difficult to determine if declines were actually occurring. More recently, work by a team of melittologists (scientists who study bees) at the University of Illinois has documented severe declines in several Midwestern bumblebee species.
In order to understand pollinator diversity and status on its preserves in Oklahoma, a bee inventory and monitoring program began in 2008 at the Four Canyon Preserve, in cooperation with several bee experts from Missouri and Illinois. Sampling at Four Canyon has turned up over 80 species of native bees, including many oligolectic species (oligolectic bee species collect pollen only from certain kinds of plants).
Oligolectic bees are specialists, and because of this are more tenuously connected to natural systems than generalists, which can collect pollen from a variety of plants. Most of the oligoleges that were expected at Four Canyon to this point (based on the presence of their host plants), have been found.
Interesting oligoleges found at Four Canyon include a nocturnal species (Lasioglossum texanum) that collects pollen only from flowers in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae), another species (Centris lanosa) that collects floral oil instead of nectar, and is restricted to communities where its oil plant (Krameria) occurs, several species restricted to pollen of Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchellus), and two bumblebee species (Bombus fraternus and B. pensylvanicus) that are declining in the Midwest.
Two species new to science were also found: a species of Anthidium (large, black and yellow megachilid bees often oligolectic on legume plants), and a species of Hesperapis (family Melittidae), oligolectic on Gaillardia (Asteraceae). Both of these new species appear to be endemic to the southern Great Plains.
All in all, the Four Canyons bee fauna appears to be fascinatingly diverse, and in great shape.
(Image: Queen bee on a liatris. Image credit: Michael Fuhr. Second image: Mike Arduser at the Four Canyon Preserve in Oklahoma. Image credit: Michael Fuhr.)
Tags: Anthidium, bees, Four Canyon, Four Canyon Preserve, Heritage biologist, Hesperapis, Mike Arduser, Missouri Department of Conservation, natural history biologist, Nature Conservancy, new bee species discovered, new bees discovered, Oklahoma, oligolectic bee species, oligolectic bees, oligolectic species, pollination, pollination ecology, tallgrass prairie bees, tnc