The podcast, "The Buzz on Native Bees in Your Neighborhood," is online.
"When I say 'bees,' you probably think of a neat stack of white hive boxes and the jars of honey on the store shelves, right?" Flatow began. "But there's a lot more to bees than that. Because around the world, there are over 20,000 known bee species, and 4,000 of them are native to the U.S. And while these native bees that live in the wild play a key role in pollinating our plants, they don't get a ton of recognition or support like the ones that live in a box."
Professor Williams discussed a number of bee species, including bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, mining bees ("bees that burrow into the ground or soil") and mason bees and leafcutter bees.
Mason bees, Williams said, build their nests "partly out of mud, which then dries. And the leafcutter bees are chewing pieces of leaves and making their nests out of those leaf pieces, either as whole chunks of leaves or as chewed up bits of leaves. We have a series of other small to large bees that nest on the ground or nest above ground that fall into other families. But probably those are the most familiar for most people."
Williams called attention to research led by his then graduate student, and now postdoctoral fellow, Maureen Page, who compared "the quality of honey bees at pollinating flowers versus the quality of other bees. And in general, we find that honey bees are sort of equal or slightly less good than many other bees. And the old adage, the jack of all trades is the master of none--the honey bee is really that jack of all trades. It's very wide in the number of flowers that it will visit, but doesn't tend to be particularly effective on any one flower visit relative to some of the other bees we have."
The alfalfa leafcutter bee "is a really effective pollinator relative to the honeybees at pollinating alfalfa," he told Flatow.
"So your bumble bee is sort of the lab animal, then," Flatow commented. "It's not a white mouse. It's a bumble bee."
Williams agreed. "It's become a pretty useful organism for studying things in the lab. I should say the other group that we work a lot with are mason bees and leafcutter bees. And because of the way they nest, they have been really useful for studying other sorts of questions. So there are a couple of groups that we work well with."
Williams also touched on the threats faced by native bees. In addition to pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides), "they're threatened by the loss of reliable foraging floral resources," Williams said. "They are threatened by a set of emerging diseases. And this is, again, where the honey bee gets a lot of attention, right? This colony collapse may be resulting from certain viruses, but wild bees, native bees, also have some substantial problems with certain viruses and also other kinds of pathogens."
"And then a really big one is climate change. So we have to fully recognize that changes in rainfall and also changes in temperature patterns seem to be stressing bees in different parts of the U.S., for sure."
Flatow, whose colleagues say has "revived many an office plant at death's door," asked: "Can I plant a little patch of wild flowers in a pot or in the yard and really help out?"
"This is also one of these questions that's a complex one, but we'll try not to make it too complex," Williams said. "I mean, in general, planting flowers for bees is a useful thing. The one thing we'd want to be careful about if we were planting flowers in the yard is that we were also being careful about the use of some of these chemical pesticides. But I think also recognizing the importance of natural areas and broader stewardship of habitat for bees across the landscape is really important. And this tricky one with climate change, too--what are we going to do? We don't solve climate change with the sorts of things that we would do– small-scale actions--to help bees."
"But we can do some things probably--providing shady spots, where they have what we call microclimates that are maybe protecting them from times where there are heat waves that are particularly problematic--things like that that could be useful."
Williams, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in 2009, was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program supporting his research, teaching and public service. He was named a a Highly Cited Researcher by Clarivate Analytics in 2018, and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 2021.
A native of Madison, Wisc., he received his doctorate in ecology and evolution from Stony Brook University, New York in 1999.
- Neal Williams, biography, Wikipedia
- Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Evidence of exploitative competition between honey bees and native bees in two California landscapes by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, June 2023, Journal of Animal Ecology
- Honey bee introductions displace native bees and decrease pollination of a native wildflower by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, December 2022, Journal of Ecology
- A meta-analysis of single visit pollination effectiveness comparing honey bees and other floral visitors by Maureen Page, Charlie Nicholson, Ross Brennan and Neal Williams, October 2021, American Journal of Botany
The annual event, free and family friendly, takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 6 in downtown Woodland.
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a 2015-2020 Chancellor's Fellow, will present a talk on "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them" at 10:30 a.m. on the UC Davis Speakers' Stage.
"Pollination by insects, mostly bees, is critical to human wellbeing," Professor Williams said. "An astonishing 75 percent of food crops benefit to some extent from pollination, most of it provided by managed and wild bees. When thinking about pollination of crops, most of us consider honey bees–and they are a critical part of crop pollination. However, native bees also play an important role and in some cases are better pollinators of crops than honey bees. In the presentation, I will provide an overview of the diversity, life history and biology of native bees. I will then discuss how we can use an understanding of bee biology to help sustain and promote diverse communities of wild bees."
Williams' research interests include pollination ecology, bee biology with emphasis on foraging behavior, ecology and evolution of trophic specialization and plant-pollinator interactions, landscape change and community dynamics, ecosystem services and conservation;
The California Honey Festival, launched in 2017 to celebrate the importance of bees and to promote honey and honey bees and their products, last year drew a crowd of 40,000.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute, and a co-founder of the festival, announced the list of speakers who will deliver 20 to 30-minute talks on the UC Davis Speakers' Stage, located just west of First Street.
10:30 a.m.: Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who will discuss "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them"
11 a.m.: Kitty Bolte, GATEways horticulturist, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, "Planting Your Garden to be a Welcoming Space for Pollinators"
12 noon: Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and co-owner of Z Food Specialty and The HIVE, Woodland, "Let's Learn to Taste Honey."
1 p.m.: Wendy Mather, co-program manager of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "So, You Want to Be a Beekeeper?"
1:30 p.m.: Jean-Philippe Marelli, senior director of Integrated Pest Management for Mars Wrigley Confectionery (also a journey level master beekeeper and Melipona beekeeper in Brazil), "Stingless Bees: The Amazing World of Melipona Bees"
2 p.m.: Cooperative Extension apiculturist/associate professor Elina Lastro Niño of Entomology and Nematology, and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "What Our Bee Research Is Teaching Us."
2:30 p.m.: Sanmu "Samtso" Caoji, a 2022-23 Hubert Humphrey fellow, and founder of the Shangri-la Gyalthang Academy, and CEO of the Cultural Information Consulting Company, "Empowering Women to Become Beekeepers and Bread Winners for Their Families While Keeping Bees in the Wild"
3 p.m.: Rachel Davis, coordinator of Bee City USA Woodland and chair of Bee Campus USA UC Davis (GATEways Horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden), "Woodland Is a Bee City; UC Davis Is a Bee City--What This Means to Our Communities"
UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey will provide a background slide show of honey bees and native bees.
The event is both educational and entertaining. Attendees can taste honey, check out the bee observation hives, watch cooking demonstrations and kids' shows, taste mead and other alcoholic drinks (if of age) and learn about bees from beekeepers and bee scientists. Vendors, offering various products and food, will line the streets.
The UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, founded in 2016 by Niño, provides a program of learning, teaching, research, and public service. They offer comprehensive, science-based information about honey bees and honey bee health. Since 2016, the organization has donated 32,000 hours of volunteer time and served 186,630 individuals in education, outreach and beekeeping mentorship. Read more about their classes and their work on their website.
An after-party will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at The HIVE Tasting Room and Kitchen, 1221 Harter Ave., Woodland. It will feature pollinator-inspired food, drinks, and dancing to the music of Joy and Madness, an 8-piece soul and funk group. Tickets are $20 and will benefit the California Master Beekeeper Program. "Each ticket includes entry to win a bountiful Yolo County food and drink basket (value $500)," Harris said. More information is on this website.
They matter in the role of bee conservation efforts, as more than 80 percent of bees nest below ground.
So says pollination ecologist Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who will speak on "Beyond Flowers; Examining the Role of Soils in Bee Conservation Efforts" at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.
The online seminar, the last of the spring quarter, is set for 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, June 2. Host is pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams. Access the Zoom link here.
In noting that more than 80 percent of bees nest below ground, Harmon-Threatt points out that most univoltine species spend more than 90 percent of their life cycle in contact with soils. (A univoltine species is a species that has one brood of offspring per year.)
"Yet most conservation efforts ignore soils and few research studies consider these critical life stages and possible exposures that occur during them, she says in her abstract. "In a series of studies, our lab has begun to explore how much soils matter and whether ignoring them is to the detriment of conservation."
In her research, Harmon-Threatt zeroes in on understanding the patterns and processes that govern plant-pollinator interactions for conservation. "Pollinators play a vital role in plant reproduction, food production and ecosystem stability but are believed to be declining globally," she says. Her work focuses on identifying and understanding patterns in natural environments to help conserve and restore pollinator diversity. With a particular focus on bees, she investigates how a number of factors at both the local and landscape scale, including plant diversity, isolation and bee characteristics, effect bee diversity in local communities.
Harmon-Threatt received her doctorate from UC Berkeley, where she worked on bumble bee preferences and phylogenetic patterns. She completed a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship in biology at Washington University in St. Louis.
She was recently featured on the podcast, People Behind the Science. Any change in pollinator populations, she told her audience, can have significant effects on natural and agricultural communities. Recent declines in bee populations, in particular, indicate how "little we know about these important insects in their natural environments, she told her audience."
That's the topic that doctoral candidate and pollination ecologist Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will explore when she addresses the Davis Botanical Society meeting, “How I Spent My Field Season” on Thursday Nov. 14.
The event takes place from 5 to 6 p.m. in Room 1022 of the Life Sciences Addition, corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drives. Page, of the Entomology Graduate Group, and fellow speaker Emily Brodie of the Ecology Graduate Group, are recipients of Davis Botanical Society grants. Brodie, seeking her master's degree, will speak on “Patterns of Post-Fire Diversity and Regeneration in Subalpine Forests of California."
The wildflower that Page studies is a perennial herb, native to Western America. It's commonly called camas, small camas, or quamash.
In her abstract, Page writes: "While many bee species are declining, managed species, such as honey bees, have been introduced into novel ecosystems across the globe. Many studies support the claim that introduced honey bees compete with native bees. However, less is known about how honey bee introductions will affect native plant populations. Increased pressure from beekeepers to place hives in National Parks and Forests combined with the potentially huge but poorly understood impacts that non-native honey bees have on native plant populations makes exploring impacts of honey bee introductions on native plant pollination of pressing concern.”
The impact of honey bee introductions on the pollination and reproduction of the Sierra wildflower? “A preliminary data analysis suggests that honey bee introductions lead to increased visitation by honey bees and decreased visitation by native bees," Page says. "Preliminary results also suggest that honey bees are ineffective pollinators of Camassia quamash and the replacement of native bee visits by honey bee visits leads to reduced seed set. This research demonstrates that species introductions can have negative effects on plant pollination when they lead to an over-representation of visits by ineffective pollinators."
Page focuses her research on pollination ecology and bee conservation in natural and agricultural landscapes. As part of her dissertation research, she studies the impacts of honey bee introductions on plant-pollinator interactions and the pollination of native plants. She is also working to optimize wildflower plantings to simultaneously enhance honey bee nutrition and maximize support of diverse bee communities while minimizing competition between native and managed pollinators.
Last year Page received a prestigious three-year fellowship, a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, for her research proposal, “Promoting Food Security by Optimizing Wildflower Plantings to Support Wild and Managed Bees.” This highly competitive fellowship, funded by the Department of Defense, drew more than 3600 applicants. Maureen was one of 69 awardees.
The Nov. 14th event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Teri Barry or Jennifer Poore at the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity (530) 752-1091 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Williams and 13 other Fellows were inducted Tuesday night, Oct. 15 at the annual Bay Area gathering of the Fellows. Among the inductees: dermatologist and associate professor Emanual Michael Maverakis of UC Davis Health. (See list of 2019 inductees)
Fellows, nominated by other Fellows, and elected by the California Academy of Sciences' Board of Trustees. James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, nominated Williams, with Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley, seconding the nomination. Maverakis was nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department.
In his letter of nomination, Carey wrote that Williams is “widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership” and “is not only one of the stars of our campus, and the UC system, but is an internationally recognized leader in pollination and bee biology and strong voice in the development of collaborative research on insect ecology. He has organized national and international conferences, leads scores of working groups, and guides reviews of impacts of land use and other global change drivers on insects and the ecosystem services they provide.”
Williams' research spans the ecology and evolution of bees and other pollinating insects and their interactions with flowering plants. “He has become a leading voice for pollinator diversity and conservation in the California and The West,” wrote Carey. “One focus of his work has been in understanding the responses of bees to different environmental drivers and developing practical, scientifically grounded actions to support resilient pollinator communities. These efforts are particularly timely given concern over the global decline in bees and other pollinators.”
The UC Davis professor served as co-chair (with Extension apiclturist Elina Lastro Niño) of the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, a four-day conference focusing on pollinator biology health and policy held July 17-20 on the UC Davis campus.
In his work--a labor of love--Williams seeks and finds found common solutions for sustaining both wild and managed bees and communicates that information to the public and stakeholder groups. Said Carey: “This is a critical perspective in natural and agricultural lands, but also in urban landscapes in northern and southern California.”
Each year the UC Davis professor speaks to multiple beekeeper, farmer and gardener groups, and provides guidance to governing bodies, including the state legislature, and environmental groups. He and his lab are involved in a newly initiated California Bombus assessment project, which is using both museum and citizen scientist records to understand past, current and future distributions and habitat use by bumble bees. This program will host a series of workshops this spring and summer open to practitioners and the public.
Williams received his doctorate in ecology and evolution in 1999 from the State University of New York, Stony Brook and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) College from 2004 to 2009. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, advancing to full professor in 2017.
His honors and awards are numerous. Williams was part of the UC Davis Bee Team that won the Team Research Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) in 2013. In 2015, he was named a five-year Chancellor's Fellow, receiving $25,000 to support his research, teaching and public service activities. And then earlier this year, Williams received PBESA's Plant-Insect Ecosystems Award, presented annually for outstanding accomplishments in the study of insect interrelationships with plants.
In addition to Carey, five others affiliated with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are Fellows of the California Academy of Sciences:
- Professor Phil Ward, ant specialist
- Frank Zalom, integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. He is a past president of the Entomological Society of America
- Robert E. Page Jr., bee scientist and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor. He is a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and provost emeritus of Arizona State University
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the entomology department; and
- Visiting scientist Catherine Tauber, formerly of Cornell University.
Former Fellows from the UC Davis entomology department include Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and visiting scientist Maurice Tauber (1931-2014), formerly of Cornell University.