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Get the Buzz on Pollinators:
From Pollinator Podcasts to USGS Research
Released: 6/23/2010 4:01:27 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Steve Hilburger 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4036

Elizabeth Sellers 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4385

It’s National Pollinator Week, and you can get the inside buzz on North America’s pollinators by listening to re-broadcast podcasts about the essential birds, bees, bats, and even beetles that pollinate your food and flowering plants, and make our wild areas beautiful and healthy. You can also find out about USGS research on our nation’s wild pollinators.

The National Academy of Sciences has reported that not only is there direct evidence for decline of some pollinator species in North America, but also very little is known about the status and health of most of the world's wild pollinators.  Yet without them, the ability of agricultural crops and wild plants to produce food products and seeds is jeopardized. Over 75 percent of flowering plants rely on pollinators, and they are responsible for an estimated $15 billion in services to agriculture alone in the United States. Pollinators are equally as important to sustaining ecosystem functions and food supplies for wildlife.

Podcasts: These podcasts were originally produced for National Pollinator Week 2008 and 2009 by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and its federal partners in the Department of the Interior.

Bees are Not an Option: The tremendous importance of native bees and pollinators in general, and how you can easily lend a hand to these tiny titans. 

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Altitudes: Pollinators, Phenology, and Climate Change: How climate change may be affecting pollinators and the timing of their life events.

USGS Studies on Wild Pollinators:

Bee Mysteries: What Do Native Bees Want? At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, USGS scientist Ralph Grundel is working to unravel some of the many mysteries surrounding native bee communities. He and his colleagues surveyed bees in five different habitats from dense forests to open fields, hoping to find out if the plant community predicted the bee community, or if other things, such as soil type, tree density, or disturbances such as fire, were more important. The researchers collected close to 5,000 native bees, representing at least 171 species. They had anticipated that the closer collecting sites were to each other the more similar the bee communities would be – but, said Grundel, they were wrong. Mere physical proximity wasn’t a very good predictor of how similar bee communities would be, which means that local factors – such as soil type and the presence of woody debris (many native bees are ground- and cavity-nesters) – are important in determining bee communities. In fact, bee abundance – the actual numbers of bees of all species -- was lower in areas with a lot of tree canopy cover and higher if fire had occurred recently. Bee diversity – the number of different species – was higher in areas with more kinds of plants and an abundance of nesting resources (such as woody debris), and the kinds of bees in the bee community was significantly related to plant diversity, nesting suitability, and canopy cover.  Specialist bees – those that gather pollen from a limited number of plants – were most likely to live in more open areas, indicating that the diversity of specialist bees lessens as the density of trees increases. Specialist bees, not surprisingly, were also more associated with the presence of native plants in the area, but a lot of these native plants were more likely to occur in disturbed areas, including areas that had recently been burned. So when pollinator organizations promote having pollinator gardens even in urban areas, there is science behind it, Grundel said, noting that there are native bee communities even on the rooftops of buildings in Manhattan. Contact: Ralph Grundel, rgrundel@usgs.gov, 219-926-8336, x422.

Research on Endangered Karner Blue Butterflies: The federally endangered Karner blue butterfly is a resident of oak savannas. The butterfly used to live in all states and Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes but across most of that range, many populations have disappeared or diminished in size. Beginning in the early 1990's, USGS scientist Ralph Grundel has carried out extensive research in the Indiana Dunes on the habitat use patterns of adult Karner blue butterflies, as well as the distribution and population characteristics of wild lupine, the specific host plant of the butterfly. Although that research has clearly indicated the importance of canopy diversity for the Karner blue, restoring such diverse landscapes has not proven sufficient for maintaining Karner blue populations – Karner blue population counts at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore declined 81 percent from 1999-2008, despite active habitat management.  These trends raise the possibility that other factors, such as climate change, are negatively affecting this species.  To examine this possibility, Grundel, along with USGS colleagues and scientists at the University of Notre Dame, are examining how large- and micro- scale climatic variation is affecting the distribution, demography, and genetics of Karner blue populations. Contact: Ralph Grundel, rgrundel@usgs.gov 219-926-8336, x422.

Living Alongside Butterflies and Mosquitoes: How Measuring Pesticide Exposure Levels can Support Management of At-Risk Pollinators: Two at-risk butterfly species that are found in the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key in Florida may be harmed by currently allowed aerial application of a mosquito control insecticide over the refuge. The butterflies – the Florida leafwing butterfly and Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly – are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Since the refuge is one of a few locations where the butterflies are found, refuge managers want to make sure that mosquito-control insecticides do not harm the butterflies. Consequently, USGS researcher Tim Barger is conducting laboratory and field studies to assess if the amount of exposure to these insecticides on the refuge adversely affects the species or not. The results of these studies will also help the mosquito control district understand if its spray patterns should be changed to reduce impacts in areas not targeted by the sprays. Contact: Timothy Bargar, tbargar@usgs.gov, 352-264-3520.

Calling All Shutterbugs: Go On Safari for Pollinators: Did you know that roughly one-third of the food you eat requires insect pollination? However, bees and other pollinators face increasing risk from pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change and diseases. You can help scientists find out more about how bees are doing by taking digital photographs for “Bee Hunt.” This citizen science project is part of Discover Life, a key partner of the USGS-NBII Invasive Species Information Node. So go grab your pith helmet, watch a short video describing how to take photographs in the field, and join us for an exciting small-scale safari. Discover Life is also rallying citizen scientists to monitor plants, fungi, lichens, ladybugs, moths, butterflies, caterpillars and other critters. Contact Nancy Lowe at nancy@discoverlife.org.

The Nectar Corridor and Pollinating Bats: Three species of nectar- and pollen-feeding bats unique to the southwestern United States may be critical to the health and maintenance of ecosystems in the U.S.-Mexico borderland area. The lesser long-nosed bat and greater long-nosed bat are endangered; the Mexican long-tongued bat is noted by some as being a species of concern. Vandalism and destruction of roosting sites and loss of habitat and food resources may jeopardize all three species.  With the aim of helping to guide conservation and management strategies for nectar-feeding bats in the Southwest, USGS researchers have a long history of studying the distribution, abundance, and activity patterns of these important migratory pollinators. Contact: Paul Cryan, cryanp@usgs.gov, 970-226-9389.

Do Invasive Plants Influence Pollinator Visits to Native Plants? If pollinators choose to visit invasive plants instead of native ones, it could influence or even reduce native plant reproduction. USGS studies on the effects of competition between native and non-native plants for pollination services include:

In North Dakota USGS researcher Diane Larson has studied the effects of nonnative plant invasion on pollination of native plants in natural areas.  One study by Larson and her colleagues revealed that in natural areas where the invasive plant, leafy spurge, is present, there were fewer visits by native sweat bees to native plants.  Even though visits by bees to native flowers increased in uninfested areas in the second year of the study, they declined in infested areas. In addition, native plants received less of their own species’ pollen in both years, which could potentially limit reproduction. Contact: Diane Larson, dlarson@usgs.gov, 651-649-5041.

In Badlands National Park in South Dakota, nine rare plant species compete for pollinator services with several kinds of invasive plants. USGS scientists Diane Larson and Sam Droege are documenting the interaction webs that that link rare and invasive plants with pollinators and, consequently, with each other. As park managers work to reduce populations of invasive plants, it becomes important to know if pollinators are relying on them; if so, it will be important to restore the floral resources lost when the invasives are removed. Understanding the linkages between pollinators of both rare and invasive species will help prevent inadvertent damage to pollinator communities and reproduction of rare plants. The list of species associated with the webs and associated trapping will provide a baseline assessment of the pollinators at the park, allowing managers and researchers to see if the kinds of pollinators change over time in response to climate change. Contact: Diane Larson, dlarson@usgs.gov, 651-649-5041.

In Acadia National Park in Maine, USGS research Howard Ginsberg also looked at how invasives affect the number of pollinator visits to native species. He and his colleagues found that the number of flower visitors to natives was lower or the kind of pollinators that visited flowers were different when invasives were present, that invasives sometimes attracted more pollinators, and that generally the invasives were more rewarding as far as nectar and pollen availability for pollinators. They also found that native plant fruit set and seed set was usually not significantly lowered in the presence of the invasive. In fact, in one year fruit set of the plant meadowsweet was significantly greater in the presence of the invasive plant purple loosestrife. The number of invasive pollen grains on native stigmas was extremely low; on average less than one grain per stigma. These fruit set and pollen deposition findings indicate that native plant reproduction was not adversely affected in the short term by these invasive species and that therefore competition between the native and invasive species for pollinators did not occur. Contact: Howard Ginsberg, hginsberg@usgs.gov, 401-874-4537.

For Experts and Backyard Bugcatchers: Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) Database: The BAMONA database is a user-friendly database that contains the most comprehensive online distribution record of butterfly and moth species available for North America. More than 275,000 records and nearly 4,500 species accounts are accessible via the website through dynamic distribution maps, checklists, and species accounts that are generated in “real time,” offering users the most up-to-date information with each visit. The data-rich website was unveiled by the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Mountain Prairie Information Node (MPIN) and the Big Sky Institute (BSI) at Montana State University in June 2006. BAMONA has since drawn rave reviews from professional lepidopterists to backyard bugcatchers and has attracted up to 115,000 visits and more than 1.1 million page views per month.

North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Butterfly Counts Go Digital: Every summer, for more than 30 years, hundreds of volunteers have spread out across America to count butterflies as part of the North American Butterfly Association's (NABA) 4th of July and other summer season butterfly counts. Until recently, the task of collecting, collating, and analyzing the data from these counts was done entirely by hand and on paper. But with co-funding from the USGS NBII, the NABA was able to develop a new web-based system for automated data entry that streamlined this process. The new system was first used by volunteers to enter data for more than 300 counts completed during the 2008 monitoring period. Contact: Andrea Ostroff, aostroff@usgs.gov, 703-648-4070.

The Very Handy Bee Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection: A simple net is no longer sufficient to catch bees.  Traps of various sorts are much more efficient and less biased when doing survey work.   It is also true that over the past 20 years many of the institutes that harbored bee taxonomists and specialists have dwindled and few groups are left to teach students of entomology how to catch, clean, label, store, and database a collection of bees. This online guide to North American bee identification is a first attempt at bridging that gap and provides detailed instructions on bee monitoring techniques including specimen collection, processing and management, and bee identification, compiled from the experiences and suggestions of the continent’s best bee researchers and collectors. Copies of The Very Handy Manual (PDF) may be downloaded. Contact: Sam Droege, sdroege@usgs.gov, 301-497-5840.

Online Interactive Bee Identification Guides: According to a 2006 National Research Council report, pollinator populations in North America are in decline or lack sufficient data to be effectively evaluated. Effective surveillance and monitoring of bee populations is highly dependent on valid species identification and robust taxonomic classifications. In response to this lack of data, DOI and USDA, as well as various academic groups, have completed much of the work necessary to best survey and monitor native bees and are beginning to survey bees in national parks, refuges, states, and other areas. In 2005, the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) provided a grant to its partner Discover Life to support a project on developing online interactive identification keys or Guides to the Bee Genera of North America East of the Mississippi River. With additional support from the Ambrose Monell Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and led by USGS researcher Sam Droege, scientists and taxonomists from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Georgia-Athens are working together to create online identification guides for the bees of North America based on specimens and Charles Duncan Michener’s The Bees of the World (2000). The guides are being developed using technology provided by The Polistes Foundation, a 501C-3 nonprofit organization that coordinates the Discover Life project. Contact: Sam Droege, sdroege@usgs.gov, 301-497-5840. Note: A fact sheet with more detailed information about the Bee Guides is available online (PDF).

Pollinator Experts Database: The NBII Pollinators Project provides in-kind support to the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN)  Pollinators Thematic Network (PTN) by hosting and maintaining the IABIN PTN website and providing technology design, data management, and quality review support in the development of an online Pollinator Experts Database; DarwinCore Extensions for Pollinator Data Exchange; a pollinator data digitization and standardization tool; and the IABIN Pollinator Data Portal. By facilitating pollinator information access and exchange, the NBII and IABIN PTN support successful monitoring and management of pollinator populations throughout the Western Hemisphere. Contact: Elizabeth Sellers esellers@usgs.gov, 703-648-4385.

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