At Mealtime, Honey Bees Prefer Country Blossoms to City Blooms

The Ohio State University     By Misti Crane     March 14, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Hungry honey bees appear to favor flowers in agricultural areas over those in neighboring urban areas.

The discovery has implications for urban beekeepers and challenges assumptions that farmland and honey bees are incompatible, said authors of a new study from The Ohio State University.

The team positioned honey bee colonies in an apiary in a central Ohio cemetery smack in the middle of where urban residential development transitions into farmland. They left the colonies to forage for nectar and pollen wherever they preferred.

The bees, studied from late summer to early fall, overwhelmingly went for the agricultural offerings instead of the assorted flowering plants in and around the urban neighborhoods nearby, said lead author Douglas Sponsler, who was a graduate student in entomology at Ohio State when the research was conducted in 2014. The study appears in the Journal of Urban Ecology.

Throughout the study, the honey bees’ haul always favored plants from the agricultural area, and hit a high of 96 percent of the pollen collected at one point.

“Honey bees didn’t seem to care that much what the floral diversity was. What they wanted was large patches of their favorite stuff,” said Sponsler, who now works at Penn State University.

Goldenrod was particularly popular, the researchers found. The bees’ agricultural foraging preference was especially pronounced at the end of the season, as the colonies prepared to overwinter.

While farm fields themselves aren’t attractive to the bees, the countryside features wide swaths of unmowed wild plants (also known as weeds) along roadsides and in field margins, Sponsler said.

Senior author Reed Johnson, an assistant professor of entomology at Ohio State, said the discoveries made in this study help explain the ongoing hardships of urban beekeepers, who are growing in number in Ohio and elsewhere.

“When the bees have a choice, they go to the farmland. We’ve had trouble keeping our urban colonies alive, so this makes a lot of sense to us,” Johnson said.

“There’s this popular perception that urban places are better for bees because of the diversity of plants. This is showing that, at least in Ohio, the agricultural areas are actually superior and that’s despite the pesticide use that’s out there,” he said.

“Apparently, farmland isn’t desolate at all – at least not for honey bees.”

Uncovering where the bees had been and what exactly captured their attention was a two-part process.

First, researchers videotaped then analyzed the tell-tale dance patterns of bees returning to the three study colonies. Translated by scientists, these dance moves explain what direction the foraging bee has been in relation to the hive and how far in that direction.

“These things can be pretty easily decoded by the human observer, thankfully. You can map the locations that are being referred to in the dance,” Sponsler said.

The second part of the analysis – pollen identification – confirmed the dance-derived findings. When the honeybees came back to the cemetery, they flew through a screen that allowed their bodies in but scraped the pollen off their hind legs and into a collection chamber.

Sponsler and his colleagues then sorted through the bees’ collection, separating the grains of pollen by color and shape and then cross-referencing to determine what exactly the bees were foraging.

They examined pollen from five sampling dates. Agricultural foraging outweighed urban foraging in every sample and hit a high of 96 percent on the Sept. 19 collection date and a low of 62 percent of the honey bees’ haul on Sept. 4.

For urban beekeepers and others interested in a thriving honey bee population, it could be prudent to think about supplementing the bees’ diets at summer’s end, the researchers said.

Honey bee populations could also become more stable in urban areas with more careful landscaping choices in and around cities, the researchers said.

“The focus is how can we make urban spaces better for bees so we can attract them back into the city?” Johnson said.

He suggested that planting certain trees could serve the honey bee population well. Linden trees, for instance, are “phenomenal” nectar producers, Johnson said.

Sponsler said there’s plenty of room to improve urban plant diversity and keep honey bees satiated there as well as in the country.

“There’s no reason why our urban landscapes cannot be full of flowers. It’s just that we’ve inherited a certain preference toward things that look like golf courses rather than things that look like prairies.”

Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Emma Matcham, Chia-Hua Lin and Jessie Lanterman.

The study was supported by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

https://news.osu.edu/news/2017/03/14/bees-and-farms/

OSU Webinar: Gardening for Pollinators

The Bee Lab Beekeeping Webinars are back! 

Join us for our free, monthly webinar series beginning at 9AM EASTERN tomorrowMarch 18th

Gardening for Pollinators - Denise Ellsworth, The Ohio State University

Gardeners play a vital role in the development and conservation of habitat that benefits pollinators, including bees, birds and butterflies. This session will focus on the practical steps gardeners can take to create or enhance habitat, including plant selection and simple design elements. By creating a patchwork of garden spaces that provide food and shelter for pollinators, gardeners can positively impact the health and survival of these important creatures. 

All webinars are free, and registration is not required. Webinars run from 9:00AM to 10:00AM Eastern.

To join the webinar, follow the link below and LOG IN AS A GUEST at about 8:55AM Eastern:  http://go.osu.edu/theOSUbuzz

To access via iPad, iPhone or Android device, download the Adobe Connect app. 
All webinars will be recorded and archived on the Bee Lab website.

OSU Webinar: Bee Foraging in Rural Areas During Corn Planting

Join us for our free monthly beekeeping webinar on Wednesday, August 20th at 9AM EASTERN / 6AM PACIFIC: Bee Foraging in Rural Areas During Corn Planting
Reed Johnson, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University 

Dr. Johnson will discuss the issues surrounding corn planting and honey bee health. He will address neonicotinoid pesticides and their effects on bees, as well as current research efforts in Ohio and elsewhere.

All webinars are free, and pre-registration is not required. To join this free webinar, follow the link and LOG IN AS A GUEST at about 8:55AM (EASTERN) 5:55AM (PACIFIC) on August 20th.

Bee Lab Webinar Link
https://carmenconnect.osu.edu/r7v7zmbhr1y/

* Please note, our webinar link changed this summer. If you had bookmarked or saved a previous link, please update with this link.

This and each monthly webinar will be recorded and archived on the Ohio State Bee Lab website the day of the session. We currently have about two dozen webinar recordings archived.