These Winter Blooming Plants Give Bees a Boost

The Orgonian   By Kim Pokorny    January 15, 2017

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Bees and other pollinators out and about during the dark days of winter look to gardeners for the nourishment that keeps them going until the more abundant seasons of the year arrive.

"Black-tailed bumblebees are out as early as January," said Andony Melathopoulos, a bee specialist with Oregon State University Extension Service. "Native bees are just starting and will be seen more often later in February when the wild willow starts blooming."

Though there are winter-flowering plants growing in the wild, many pollinators don't live anywhere near them. That makes using cultivated winter bloomers an important consideration when planning a garden.

"Even a small amount of habitat will sustain bees, even rare species," Melanthopoulos said. "These are tiny creatures. Well-thought-out landscapes can provide all the food they need in winter. Gardeners can really help with that."

Granted, there aren't that many plants that flower in winter, but what's out there adds much-needed brightness to the garden and sustenance for pollinators. Melathopoulos suggested the following winter-blooming plants.

Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard): If left to bloom into winter (which they will), your brassica crops will attract a bevy of bees.

Hazelnut (Corylus): Members of the Corylus genus - including the popular contorted and weeping hazelnuts - are one of earliest sources of pollen for bees.

Oregon grape (Mahonia): No garden - or bee - should be without one of these evergreen shrubs, especially since it's designated Oregon's state flower. But an even better reason are the insanely yellow flowers that last for weeks.

Heath and heather (Erica and Calluna): Bees zoom in to heaths and heathers like they're approaching a runway. In shades from purple to copper to gold, these low-growing plants make a mat of color throughout the year, including winter.

Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflora): Though it doesn't have the fragrance of other jasmines, this vining shrub has bright yellow flowers that are a welcome sight in winter.

Burkwood viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii): The burke Viburnum is best known for the clusters of fragrant white blooms that bees find irresistible.

Sweet box (Sarcococcus confusa): It's not the inconspicuous wispy white flowers that draw attention in deepest winter, it's the waft of fragrance that attracts both people and bees.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis): Bees get fired up over witch hazel with its crepe-paperlike flowers in colors of orange, red and, most famously, yellow.

Bees Knees: A New $4M Effort Aims to Stop the Death Spiral of Honey Bees

The Guardian  By Allison Moodie    December 11, 2016 

General Mills is co-funding a project with the federal government to restore the habitat of pollinators such as bees and butterflies on North American farms

On the 33-acre Prairie Drifter Farm in central Minnesota, farmers Joan and Nick Olson are cultivating more than just organic vegetables. Alongside their seven acres of crops – including tomatoes, cucumbers and onions – they’ve also planted flowering plants, dogwood and elderberry hedgerows to accommodate species of bees and butterflies essential for the health of the crops.

The Olsons are not beekeepers, but they are part of a movement to reconnect sustainable farming to a healthy environment. As part of a 2013 project by Xerces Society, a nonprofit that specializes in wildlife preservation, the Olsons worked with a biologist to figure out what types of flowers and shrubs to plant to attract bees, butterflies and other insects that pollinate plants. With seeds and plants they received from Xerxes, and those bought with federal grants, the couple also planted strips of grasses and flowers to attract beetles, which help to defend the vegetables against pests.

“There’s now a ton of bees – bumblebees, honeybees, sweat bees – and predatory insects,” Joan Olson said, adding that the flowering plants also add beauty to the land. “It’s good for the habitat but it’s also lovely for us.”

The Olsons’ effort is one that General Mills, in partnership with Xerces and the US Department of Agriculture, hopes to replicate in other parts of the country in a new initiative. The company is contributing $2m to an ongoing project by Xerces to restore 100,000 acres of farmland in North America over the next five years. The project, which will receive an additional $2m from the agriculture department, will bring General Mills’ investment in pollinator habitat restoration to $6m since 2011.

“Most of our products contain honey, fruits, vegetables and other ingredients that require pollination,” said Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills. “So healthy and abundant bee populations are a priority for us.”

Each year, pollinators contribute more than $24bn to the US economy. Honeybees alone are responsible for $15bn of it by boosting the production of fruits, nuts and vegetables. But bee and other pollinator populations such as butterflies have been in decline in recent years, which has made food giants sit up and take notice.

Nearly 30% of American honeybees were lost last winter, according to the department of agriculture. More than aquarter of the 46 bumblebee species in North America are considered at risk. Another study found that up to 40% of pollinators, including bees and butterflies, are in decline worldwide.

“One in three bites of food that we eat comes from a pollinator, as well as nearly three-quarters of the crops that we eat,” said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.

Scientists are still investigating what is causing the mass die-off of bees, although they have reasons to believe that pesticides, fungicides, disease and a loss of habitat are all contributing factors. General Mills has been under pressure to protect the bees from exposure to pesticides.

A 2015 study of wild bees showed the wild bee population in major agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas and the southern Mississippi River valley.

Studies show that habitat restoration is an effective way to increase bee and other pollinator populations. Restoration work involves planting flowers and shrubs on marginal land, typically narrow strips and edges that border crop fields. President Obama established a 2014 task force that developed a plan to boost pollinator populations, which committed to restoring 7m acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

“Restoration boils down to having the right kind of flowers in the places pollinators live, and having a lot of them,” said Andony Melathopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health extension at Oregon State University.

As part of its restoration initiative, Xerces will hire six conservation specialists to work with the staff from the agriculture department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has field offices throughout the country. The conservation service works with local farmers and will refer to Xerces those who want to create a pollinator habitat on their farms. There’s no limit to the type or size of the farms that could participate.

Xerces’s specialists will visit each participating farm to help draw up a plan on what and where to plant and how to minimize the use of pesticides. For instance, California farmers could plant baby blue eyes to attract native bees, or narrowleaf milkweed for monarch butterflies.

“Many farmers are good at growing single crops, but pollinator habitat is about growing diversity, something a lot of farmers haven’t done,” Black said, adding that figuring out a good mixture of plants can be tricky. “Some sites might be wetter, some might be drier or on a slope. There’s a lot that goes into what type of flowers will attract which pollinators on what site.”

There are potential downsides to any habitat restoration effort. Some insects that live in hedgerows are pests that could destroy a farmer’s crops. As part of the program, farmers will learn how to minimize this risk by choosing plants that pests don’t like.

Habitat restoration can also be expensive. Costs vary depending on the amount of work needed to prepare for planting and the types of plants used. The least costly habitat might be around $500 an acre, Black said, but a thriving habitat with a dense amount of flowering plants can set a farmer back $1000 to $2000 an acre.

Hedgerows, which consist of woody plants laid out in a straight line along crop fields, can also be costly, between $5000 and $6000 per mile.

Preparing the soil and planting the flowers and shrubs strategically are also more labor-intensive than many farmers realize. This is what farmers have the hardest time grasping, said Black.

“We live in a society where everything gets done now,” he said. “We tell farmers to take a step back and do this first step right so it works in the long run.”

Xerces will measure the success of the project mainly based on the acres of pollinator habitats created. It’s planted roughly 150,000 acres this year, and about 400,000 acres since it started restoring habitats in 2008. The biologists also plan to walk the fields and record the bee count and species, although Xerces couldn’t say how often this will occur.

Creating a habitat to accommodate a variety of bee species can sometimes be even more important than maintaining a high number of bees, Black said. Each species may prefer visiting different flowers and plants – a mixture of species is good for pollination.

“We also want to make a difference with our small piece of land, and make it a teaching tool for our kids and the community,” Joan Olson said.

Bees Use a Variety of Senses and Memory of Previous Experiences to Forage for Pollen, Research Suggests

CATCH THE BUZZ-Bee Culture    By Elizabeth Nicholls    November 28, 2016

A honey bee foraging for pollen. Credit: Dr. Elizabeth NichollsBees use a variety of senses and memory of previous experiences when deciding where to forage for pollen, research by the University of Exeter suggests.

The researchers believe pollen-collecting bees do not base their foraging decisions on taste alone, but instead make an “overall sensory assessment” of their experience at a particular flower.

Bees typically do not eat pollen when they collect it from flowers, but carry it back to the nest via special “sacs” on their legs or hairs on their body.

This makes it difficult to understand how bees judge whether the pollen a flower produces is nutritious enough for their young.

Indeed, researchers have been puzzled for a long time as to what exactly bees look for when they collect pollen from flowers.

Co-author Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, expert in insect neuroethology at Exeter’s Center for Research in Animal Behavior, said: “It seems that bees don’t just respond to a single nutritional compound in pollen, such as crude protein content, but to a range of sensory cues in pollen and flowers.

“They also form memories for locations and types of flowers that they have visited which affect their foraging decisions.

“We need more research that considers the behavior and neurobiology of bees to understand when and why they prefer some plants and some pollen over others.

“A breakthrough in this area could advance our efforts in both biodiversity conservation and crop production.”

The review, published in the journal Functional Ecology, examines existing evidence on how bees use their senses, previous experience and — in the case of social bees — feedback from the nest to decide where to gather pollen.

First author Dr Elizabeth Nicholls, a former PhD student at the University of Exeter and now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, said: “Our review is unique in considering pollen foraging from an individual bee’s perspective, asking which senses bees use to decide which flowers are worth visiting.

“In our review we suggest that although bees may taste pollen during collection and use this nutritional information to guide their choices, they are also likely to pay attention to the strong odor and visual appearance of both pollen and the flower itself.

“For bees that live together in colonies, information passed on from the other bees in the nest, either via chemical cues or even special ‘dances’, may also be important in influencing their pollen-collecting behavior.”

The University of Exeter is a major hub for bee and pollination research and currently advertising several postgraduate research projects.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone: Complexity and Worldwide Bee Declines

Bee Culture - Catch the Buzz    January 23, 2016

Over the past two decades, bee declines worldwide have drawn international attention. Managed honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies decreased by 25% over 20 years in Europe and 59% over 58 years in North America, and many bumble bee populations in Europe and North America have gone locally extinct, resulting in dramatic range contractions. It is important to note that not all bees in allplaces are declining. Some populations are actually growing, and there are many more for which data are insufficient or nonexistent. However, given the potential agricultural and ecological consequences, several governmental agencies, including the Obama administration, have issued initiatives to combat dwindling bee populations. As we attempt to pinpoint why bees are declining and how we can help them...

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Ncole Miller-Struttmann Assistant Professor of Biology at SUNY – Old Westbury

Posted January 11, 2016 by Alexandra (Sasha) Wright in Climate ChangeEcologyGuest PostPLoS

How DNA and a Supercomputer Can Help Sustain Honey Bee Populations

Science Daily   Source: Botanical Society of America   November 13, 2015

New multi-locus metabarcoding approach for pollen analysis uncovers what plants bee species rely on

To uncover what plants honey bees rely on, researchers from The Ohio State University are using the latest DNA sequencing technology and a supercomputer. They spent months collecting pollen from beehives and have developed a multi-locus metabarcoding approach to identify which plants, and what proportions of each, are present in pollen samples.

A single beehive can collect pollen from dozens of different plant species, and this pollen is useful evidence of the hive's foraging behavior and nutrition preferences.

"Knowing the degree to which certain plants are being foraged upon allows us to infer things like the potential for pesticide exposure in a given landscape, the preference of certain plant species over others, and the degree to which certain plant species contribute to the honey bee diet," says graduate student Rodney Richardson. "One of the major interests of our lab is researching honey bee foraging preferences so we can enhance landscapes to sustain robust honey bee populations."

For Richardson and his colleagues, metabarcoding is key to this research. It is a DNA analysis method that enables researchers to identify biological specimens.

Metabarcoding works by comparing short genetic sequence "markers" from unidentified biological specimens to libraries of known reference sequences. It can be used to detect biological contaminants in food and water, characterize animal diets from dung samples, and even test air samples for bacteria and fungal spores. In the case of pollen, it could save researchers countless hours of identifying and counting individual pollen grains under a microscope.

Richardson and his colleagues devised the new metabarcoding method using three specific locations in the genome, or loci, as markers. They found that using multiple loci simultaneously produced the best metabarcoding results for pollen. The entire procedure, including DNA extraction, sequencing, and marker analysis, is described in the November issue of Applications in Plant Sciences.

To develop the new method, the researchers needed a machine powerful enough to process millions of DNA sequences. For this work, the team turned to the Ohio Supercomputer Center.

"As a researcher, you feel like a kid in a candy store," Richardson says. "You can analyze huge datasets in an instant and experiment with the fast-evolving world of open source bioinformatics software as well as the vast amount of publicly available data from previous studies."

In previous metabarcoding experiments, the researchers worked solely with a marker found in the nuclear genome called ITS2. ITS2 successfully identified plant species present in pollen samples, but it could not produce quantitative measurements of the proportions of each.

While searching for something better, they decided to test two markers from the plastid genome. Pollen was previously thought to rarely contain plastids, but recent studies showed promise for plastid-based barcoding of pollen. Richardson and his colleagues found that the combined data from the two plastid markers, rbcL and matK, successfully correlated with microscopic measurements of pollen abundance.

The new multi-locus metabarcoding method involves all three markers and could serve as a valuable tool for research on the native bee species that comprise local bee communities.

"With a tool like this, we could more easily assess what plants various bee species are relying on, helping to boost their populations as well as the economic and ecological services they provide to our agricultural and natural landscapes." Richardson says, "While the honey bee is seen as our most economically important pollinator, it's only one of several hundred bee species in Ohio, the vast majority of which are greatly understudied in terms of their foraging ecology."

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Camelina Cover Crops a Boon for Bees

USDA/ARS             By Jan Suszkiw  November 19, 2015

A honey bee forages on a camelina flower. (Photo: James Eklund)Camelina is an herbaceous, yellow-flowering member of the mustard family whose oil-rich seed and cold tolerance has piqued the interest of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists for its potential as both a winter cover crop and biodiesel resource.

Now, in the process of studying this plant, scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found that its flowering period can provide honey bees and other insects with a critical, early-spring source of nectar and pollen that's usually unavailable then. This is especially true in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, where about one-third of the nation's managed bee colonies are kept from May through October.

The researchers observed that fields of winter camelina and winter canola (another alternate oilseed crop) produced about 100 pounds per acre of nectar sugar over the course of a two- to three-week flowering season. That quantity, produced in such a short time, is enough to support the annual energy requirements of a typical bee hive, which is 100-200 pounds of sugar per year, according to Frank Forcella, an agronomist with ARS' Soil Management Research Unit in Morris, Minnesota. He participated on a team of ARS and university scientists which evaluated the attractiveness of camelina, canola and a third oilseed crop—pennycress—during two years of outdoor field trials.

Highlights of the team's findings—reported in the June 2015 issue of Industrial Crops and Products—are: 

  • Insect counts showed that, besides honey bees, the three oilseeds also attracted wild bee species, butterflies, beetles, and hoverflies, whose larval stage feeds voraciously on aphids.
  • Insects visited flowering canola up to 15 times more often than pennycress and camelina, perhaps because of higher nectar levels in each individual flower, which are much larger than those of camelina and pennycress.
  • Canola failed to bloom during one of the study years, a reflection of it being less cold-hardy than the other two oilseeds.
  • Camelina earned the highest marks overall, thanks to its optimal combination of desirable agronomic traits.

Read more about this research in the November issue of AgResearch. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

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Bee Tongues And Flowers Reveal Evolution In Overdrive

Wired  By Gwen Pearson  September 24, 2015

Living on a mountain is hard for bees and flowers. It’s cold. There’s extreme weather. And new research has found it’s getting even harder for both flowers and bees to make a living in alpine evironments lately. Scientists compared over 40 years of mountain bumblebee and flower records on three Colorado mountains, and found major decreases in both bees and flowers. But they also found clear evidence of rapid evolution by the bees, suggesting it’s not time to give up on mountain bumble bees just yet.

Open-Source Bugs

Entomologists and botanists get teased about traveling the world, meeting interesting insects and plants, and then killing them. But it’s a morbid habit that pays off; it creates a long-term, stable record of the biological past. Museum collections may look like a creepy charnel house to outsiders, full of corpses, pins, and mothballs. Our libraries of dead things become a book of evolutionary change for future scientists to read.

Preserving organisms from taxonomic or ecological studies lets us travel back in time. “People are always interested in having their data looked at and reanalyzed in a different way, a way that they hadn’t thought about previously. That is one of the great things about having open access data,” said Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann, lead author on the new bumble bee study.

To investigate how flowers and bumble bees changed, a team of scientists dug through over 40 years of records. They tracked down thousands of bumble bee specimens collected on mountains in Colorado between 1966 and 1980, and compared them to bumblebees collected in the same areas between 2012 and 2014. They also used herbarium specimens of flowers collected during similar time frames, and surveyed flowers in the field.

Plants on mountains often have very narrow temperature tolerances; too much heat can reduce flowering. On one of the mountains in the study, between 1960 to 1985 only 12 percent of the years were hot enough to reduce flowering. Since 1985, 48 percent percent of years were too hot for flowers that bumblebees typically forage on.

Since 1970, the total number of flowers available for bees on the mountain study sites declined by 60 percent overall. What did that mean for bees?

flower measuring
Researchers Jessica Kettenbach and Elizabeth Hedrick monitor plant density on Niwot Ridge
Long Term Ecological Research Site, Colorado.  NICOLE MILLER-STRUTTMANN

If Gene Simmons Were a Bee

Over 95 percent of bees in the study regions between 1966 and 1980 were just two species of “long-tongued” bees. These bees specialize in flowers with a narrow, elongated tubular shape. Their long tongue means they are able to reach the nectar hidden at the bottom of a flower, and can muscle out their shorter-tongued relatives. This is an an example of coevolution, where two species reciprocally affect each other over evolutionary time.

Bees collected from 2012 to 2014 were different, though. The long-tongued species of bumble bees declined by 24 percent. At the same time, warming temperatures and changes in flowering plants allowed some lower altitude bees to live at higher mountain elevations. The entire community of bumble bees changed. Long-tongued bumble bees responded to the scarcity of flowers by becoming less selective; the range of plants they foraged on changed significantly, and included flowers with no long nectar tubes.

The scientists wondered if the bees physically changed too, and measured body length and tongue length on their historic and modern bee specimens. How do you measure a bee’s tongue? Miller-Struttmann explains: “They tuck their tongue back into their body, so they sort of fold it back up along their chin, I guess you could say. We had to rehydrate historic specimens, and then fold the tongue out, and then measure it under a microscope with calipers.”

What no one expected was that the tongues of long-tongued bees would get shorter. A lot shorter. “A 24 percent decrease in tongue length is really dramatic,” says Miller-Struttmann. “That was in 40 years, in 40 generations, I should say, because these bumblebees only have one generation a year. That’s a pretty short period of time to see such a dramatic shift.” Bumble bee bodies also got slightly smaller, but not as much as the tongues shrank. The research team did not find changes in the depth of the flowers bumble bees were visiting. The bees’ shape changed, but the flowers didn’t.

Building and maneuvering a big tongue takes energy, and bees with shorter tongues may have done better at diverting that energy into more babies. In the short term, the bumble bees seem to be hanging on. But what about longer term?

Right now bumblebees and plants they historically fed on are mismatched physiologically. The bees may not be as good a pollinator for those plants, which could cause further declines in flowers. In the long term, perhaps they will also evolve, but they’re much longer-lived species. Their generation time is decades, not yearly. Change will be slower—or may not happen at all.

Dr. David Inouye has researched flowers and alpine bees at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for decades. He said “this study is a great example of the value of archiving data… an example of a change in bumble bees that is unexpected, and would not have been discovered without access to historical data. We have evidence from elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains that bumble bee queens of eight species have moved up 230m in altitude over about the same time span, and these kinds of changes in bumble bee communities will have interesting consequences over both ecological and evolutionary time scales.”

This study also highlights a common problem for mountain or other remote refuges—as the climate warms, the places where plants and animals thrive move slowly away from the areas we’ve designated for their conservation. By increasing areas set aside for nature, or making sure we have connections between isolated nature refuges, we can try to help bees and plants adapt to our new warmer world.

Miller-Struttmann, et al. 2015. Functional mismatch in a bumble bee pollination mutualism under climate change.

Nicole E. Miller-Struttmann & Candace Galen. 2014. High-altitude multi-taskers: bumble bee food plant use broadens along an altitudinal productivity gradient, Oecologia: 176(4) 1033

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Cancer Victory Receives Kings Royal Treatment

Auburn Journal   BY Gus Thomson   January 28, 2015

[Note: Bee-Girl, Sarah Red-Laird posted this inspirational story today on Facebook. If you were at the 2014 CSBA Convention, you may have met Justin. Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing. Note from Sarah: "Justin is not only my bee conservation super twin, he is an amazing person, and a good friend who is real good at fixing busted windshield wipers during epic storms. And his story also goes to show that the relationship he has with the outdoors is mutually beneficial. While he was battling AGAINST cancer, he was also battling FOR something life giving and precious. Read on..."]

Placer Land Trust's Jason Wages honored by Kaiser Permanente, Sacramento Kings
Justin Wages (left), Placer Land Trust inspects the Aeolia Preserve on the edge of the American River Canyon with Jeff Ward, Stewardship Manager
More than 15,000 people watched and cheered Placer Land Trust’s land manager Justin Wages take the court at a Sacramento Kings game to be honored by Kaiser Permanente for his battle back from cancer.

Wages’ story was one of four highlighted by the Kings in partnership with Kaiser Permanente during Cancer Awareness Night.

The Jan. 16 event gave individuals and their supporters and caregivers an opportunity to tell their inspirational stories. For Wages, the night was even more a celebration because it came on the eve of the third anniversary of his last surgery to remove part of his lung, making him cancer-free.

Wages said the event was “incredible” in terms of the lives he could have an impact on by recounting his story. Kaiser Permanente showed a short video telling the story of Wages and his care team during the break after the first quarter. Then the group paraded on the court to thunderous applause.

Part of Wages’ role with the land trust is ensuring seeds are planted to promote future growth of oak woodlands. In fact, he was out with a youth group soon after the Kings game planting acorns on Land Trust overseen property.

Wages said Tuesday that he’s hoping his story will plant the seed of an idea in the minds of Kings fans to get screened for cancer.

“If just one person who was at the game goes in early and is checked out, rather than putting things off, and cancer is caught early, I’ll have made a difference,” Wages said.

Wages, 39, was working part-time at the Auburn-based land trust and attending Sierra College in 2009 when he was diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

“I had school, I had work, and I had cancer,” Wages said. “I couldn’t do all three. I didn’t have a choice about the cancer, so I chose work and Placer Land Trust became my rock.”

Wages underwent chemotherapy and five surgeries, all the while keeping up his work and spirits at the land trust.

“I’d be up at 5 a.m. scattering seeds at one of our preserves and I’d have to go behind a tree to throw up,” Wages said.

Co-workers marveled at his dedication. Placer Land Trust Assistant Director Jessica Daugherty recalled that in the middle of a drought, Wages showed his concern after wildflowers had been planted and there was a possibility they would dry up in the heat.

“Even though he was fresh out of surgery and totally sick, he hiked out there in the heat – with a chemo bag slung over his shoulder – so he could water the seeds,” Daugherty said.

For Wages, the work was his bedrock and his colleagues some of his greatest supporters through some tough times emotionally and physically....

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Pollen DNA Reveals Honey Bee Foraging Habits

Entomology Today   January 13, 2015

Exactly what plants do honey bees visit on their daily forages for food? A research team from Ohio State University has found that the answer lies in the pollen collected by the bees, and they have developed a new method that utilizes DNA metabarcoding to analyze pollen to determine its origin. Their new protocol has been published in the journal Applications in Plant Sciences.

“Understanding honey bees’ pollen preferences can provide insights to what a colony needs and help improve the quality of foraging habitats,” said Dr. Chia-Hua Lin, one of the co-authors.

Their work should provide other researchers with a foundation for uncovering information from pollen DNA, and it will also enable bees to do some environmental science fieldwork.

“A honey bee colony is like an army of research assistants — thousands of enthusiastic, flying research assistants that work all day and trespass with impunity,” said Doug Sponsler, another co-author. “While foraging each day, bees are unknowingly monitoring plants in their surrounding landscapes, some hard to reach by researchers, and collecting valuable data in the form of pollen. They can also serve as bioindicators of pollution and pesticides.”

According to his colleague and co-author Rodney Richardson, traditional methods of analyzing pollen data under the microscope suffer from being difficult, slow, and often imprecise.

“There’s a huge bottleneck in the workflow because ultimately every sample needs the undivided attention of one expert behind a microscope,” Richardson said.

DNA metabarcoding is a promising alternative because it allows rapid identification of the genera or even species present in a mass DNA sample of multiple organisms. The technology has been gaining popularity across many fields of biology, and Richardson and colleagues are among the first to apply it to pollen analysis.

“It’s a first attempt that lets other researchers know what to expect, using the ITS2 marker in particular,” said Richardson.

Metabarcoding resulted in higher sensitivity and resolution, and identified twice as many plant families than microscopic analysis of the same pollen samples. However, it lacks the ability to quantitatively assess the relative proportions of each pollen type, something that will need to be addressed in future advancements.

For now, a combination of traditional microscopic analysis with DNA metabarcoding offers a deeper look into bee foraging behavior than either method alone. For scientists, this is only the beginning of uncovering the secret life of bees. For the bees, it is only the beginning of their work as research assistants.

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Read more at: Application of ITS2 Metabarcoding to Determine the Provenance of Pollen Collected by Honey Bees in an Agroecosystem

More Problems for Bees; We've Wiped Out Their Favorite Plants   By Diana Gitig   November 25, 2014 

Pollen samples from old museum specimens indicate bees' favorite meals are gone.

That orange blob on the bees legs is all pollen, saved for a future meal. (Credit: CA Dept of Food & Ag)Bees are disappearing—that much is certain. What's unclear is why. Pathogens and pesticides have been posited as potential causes, as has the loss of bees' preferred floral resources. This last reason has intuitive appeal: wildflowers are disappearing because of agriculture, and bees rely on the pollen and nectar in flowers, so the loss of flowers should be causing the loss of bees.

But a demonstration of this seemingly simple idea has been hard to come by. Different species of bees rely on different plants—the bee species that are disappearing have never been analyzed in terms of taste for the plants that are disappearing to see if they match up. And, once the bees or plants are gone...


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At the CSBA Convention!!! Washington DC - Honey Bee Forage and Nutrition Summit Panel

CSBA Annual Convention    November 18-20, 2014   Hyatt Regency, Valenciay, CA

At the CSBA Convention!!! Panel: "Washington DC - Honey Bee Forage and Nutrition Summit" Wed. Nov. 19, 11:15am. Hear the 'take back to the hive' message from some of those who were there and were invited to participate such as Pete Berthelsen, Gene Brandi, Zac Browning, Christi Heintz, Randy Verhoek. Info on the convention: View CSBA Program at: Read PAm report back to the hive at

Do You Have a Little Land to Spare for the Bee Buffer Project?

Bug Squad Happenings in the insect world    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   September 15, 2014

Do you have a little land to spare, such as a quarter of an acre or up to three acres? For honey bee habitat? 

The Pollinator Partnership, as part of its U.S. Bee Buffer Project, wants to partner with California farmers, ranchers, foresters, and managers and owners to participate in a honey bee forage habitat enhancement effort. It's called the U.S. Bee Buffer Project and the goal is to "borrow" 6000 acres to plant honey bee seed mix.

It will create a foraging habitat of pollen and nectar, essential to honey bee health. And there's no charge for the seed mix.

What a great project to help the beleaguered honey bees!

"Beekeepers struggle to find foraging areas to feed their bees when they are not in a pollination contract," said "idea generator" Kathy Kellison of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, a strong advocate of keeping bees healthy.  "Lack of foraging habitat puts stress on the bees and cropping systems honey bees pollinate. The U.S. Bee Buffer Project will develop a network of honey bee forage habitats in agricultural areas to support honey bee health and our own food systems. We are looking for cooperators with land they are willing to set aside as Bee Buffers."

Kellison points out:

  • Honey bees provide pollination services for 90 crops nationwide.
  • A leading cause for over-winter mortality of honey bee colonies given by beekeepers surveyed is starvation. The nationwide winter loss for 2012/2013 was 31.3 percent.

The requirements, she said, are minimal:

  • Access to an active farm, ranch, forest, easement, set-aside, or landscape
  • Ability to plant 0.25 to 3 acres with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix
  • Commitment to keep the Bee Buffer in place
  • Allow beekeepers and researchers on-site

Of course, the benefits to the participants include free seeds and planting information; supplemental pollination of flowering plants; and leadership participation in the beginnings of a nationwide effort to support honey bees. Then there's the potential for enriched soil, reduction in invasive plant species, and enhanced wildlife habitat.

And, we made add, a sense of accomplishment as bees forage on your thriving plants.

Those interested in participating in this nationwide effort and hosting a Bee Buffer, can visit to fill out a brief eligibility questionnaire. More information is available from Mary Byrne at the Pollinator Partnership at (415) 362-1137 or

Go, bees!

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Pesticide Free Forage - In Your Front Yard!

Pollinator Stewardship Council  By Michele Colopy  August 8, 2014

As beekeepers we need to set an example, and start planting forage for our bees. Whether you live on a city lot, have an acre in the suburbs, or a small farm in the country, you too can provide, should provide, pesticide free forage for your honey bees and native pollinators.

After clarifying city regulations it was determined lawn grass could not exceed eight inches in height in my city, but flowers had no height restriction. So, I could provide pesticide free forage for pollinators in the city. To kill the grass in the front yard it was covered with clear plastic to solarize the lawn.  The lawn was solarized over eight weeks, killing the grass. After eight weeks the plastic was removed, the dead grass mowed and raked off the lawn. No herbicides were used, nor was the soil tilled. A path across the yard was made for the postal carrier so they would not trample any flowers. Seeds were mixed, per the directions, with sand, and spread across the “yard.” A pollinator mix, and a butterfly and hummingbird seed mix were combined. Within 10 days the seeds had sprouted. Within a month the yard was filling in with a variety of flowers. By the end of July you can see a floral variety has blossomed. All of the pollinators are enjoying the flowers. A bumble bee nest has developed at the side of the house so they can easily access pollen and nectar. The front yard is visited by large and small native bees, my Italian honey bees, butterflies, sulfurs, and more.

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The Plight of the Honey Bee

The following was broadcast on Katie Couric (Talk that Matters) July 3, 2014. With Frances Beinecke (President Natural Resources Defense Council), Dennis vanEngelsdorp (Entomologist, Univ. of Maryland), Bryan Walsh (Senior editor, Time magazine).

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live," Einstein said. For a number of years bees have been dying at an alarming rate. So what does that mean for us?