It's National Pollinator Week. Do you know where your pollinators are?
If you're thinking bees, butterflies, beetles, birds (hummingbirds) and bats, you're correct.
But what about European paper wasps (Polistes dominula)? They're pollinators, too, says associate professor Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, who researches wasps and coined the hashtag, #wasplove.
Several years ago she delivered an excellent presentation to our UC Davis Department of Entomomlogy and Nematology, and I later asked her 10 reasons why we should love wasps.
It's worth repeating:
- They are pollinators.
- They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants.
- They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
- They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
- They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
- Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior,
- They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
- They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
- They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
The European paper wasp, so named because of its European origin, is relatively new to the United States. Scientists tell us that the P. dominula was not recorded in North America until 1981. P. dominula was first discovered in the United States in the late 1970s near Boston, Mass. Entomologists worry that it is displacing the native species of Polistes wasps.
Interestingly enough, last year at this time--this very date--European paper wasps were building a nest beneath the overhanging lip of a recycling bin near the Mann lab on the UC Davis campus.
And today they're doing it again. Same place. Same bin. Same spot.
Wrong place. Wrong bin. Wrong spot. It won't be there for long.
If you visit the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone--and you should, especially during National Pollinator Week--you'll see honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, among other pollinators.
Today we spotted a male monarch patrolling the milkweed in search of a female, and a Western tiger swallowtail nectaring alternately on Verbena and on Salvia 'indigo spires.'
About that Western tiger swallowtail--it was missing a chunk of its left forewing. A predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis--tried to nail it but missed.
About that garden--it's the work of Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author. When she addressed the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," she said that "Bee gardens make us happy."
They do indeed.
Frey, a resident of Hopland, co-authored the award-winning book, The Bee Friendly Garden, with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University. It's a book that details how to design an abundant, flower-filled garden that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.
And make us happy.
About that butterfly--the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, is common throughout western North America and is often seen in urban parks and gardens. In color, it's a striking yellow and black, with spots of blue and orange near its tail. Its wingspan can measure 3 to 4 inches.
It's "basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology on his website."It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse."
When we left Sonoma Cornerstone today, the "tiger" was still floating, fluttering and flittering, quite majestically, too, throughout the garden, despite the wear and tear on its left forewing.
Survival of the flittest...
When was the last time you sighted a bumble bee? Photographed it?
It's National Pollinator Week and one of our favorite bumble bees is the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. It was also a favorite of internationally renowned bee expert Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who passed away June 7 at age 85. (See obituary)
In fact, all bumble bees were his favorite, including the elusive Franklin's bumble bee, found only in a small range in southern Oregon and northern California and now feared extinct. We remember a July 2010 interview with Thorp:
“People often ask the value of Franklin's bumble bee," Thorp told us. "In terms of a direct contribution to the grand scale of human economies, perhaps not much, but no one has measured its contribution in those terms. However, in the grand scheme of our planet and its environmental values, I would say it is priceless.”
“Loss of a species, especially a pollinator, diminishes our global environment,” he said. “Bumble bees provide an important ecological service--pollination. This service is critical to reproduction of a huge diversity of plants that in turn provide shelter, food (seeds, fruits) to diverse wildlife. The potential cascade of effects from the removal of even one localized pollinator may affect us directly and indirectly.”
Thorp treasured bumble bees and encouraged everyone else to do so, too.
The yellow-faced bumble bees are native to the west coast of North America, from Baja California to British Columbia. They're important pollinators, especially important for their buzz pollination of tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Buzz pollination occurs when they grab a blossom and shake it, dislodging the pollen. Honey bees can't do that.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently posted that one quarter (28 percent) of North American bumble bees are in some degree of extinction risk. "Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change." (See more information on bumble bees on the Xerces' site.)
Meanwhile, "across the pond," London has established a seven-mile long bee corridor of wildflowers just for pollinators.
"The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said wild mammals had declined by 82 per cent since 1980, space for natural ecosystems had halved, and one million species were now at risk of extinction as a result of human action," according to a May 7, 2019 article in The Independent newspaper. "Insect pollinators are vital for the maintenance of ecosystem health and for global food security. Insects are required to maintain the existence of 75 per cent of crop species, 35 per cent of global crop production and up to 88 per cent of flowering plant species," reporter Harry Cockburn wrote.
Want to learn more about the bumble bees around us? A good start is to read these two books, both co-authored by Thorp in his retirement: Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014).
And, if you would like to get involved in citizen science, Bumble Bee Watch seeks your sightings.
It is. June 17-21 is the week set aside to celebrate pollinators and how we can protect them.
Actually, National Pollinator Week should be every day.
Launched 12 years ago under U.S. Senate approval, National Pollinator Week zeroes in on the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, according to Pollinator Partnership, which manages the national celebration. (Other pollinators include syrphid or hover flies, mosquitoes, moths, pollen wasps, and ants. Pollination involves the transfer of pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma.)
On the UC Davis campus, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be a "hive" of activity next week, announced manager Christine Casey, academic program management officer. "We'll be hosting National Pollinator Week events Monday through Friday, June 17 to 21, between 10 a.m. and noon each day." Activities include bee information and identification, solitary bee house making, and catch-and-release bee observation.
The haven volunteers also will sell bee friendly plants and bee houses to support the haven (cash and checks only).
A new event at the haven is hive opening. At 11:45 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, California Master Beekeeper Program volunteers will open the hive in the haven "so visitors may see the girls in action." The haven, installed in the fall of 2009, is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It is open from dawn to dark, free admission.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is planning a free webinar Insect Apocalypse? What Is Really Happening, Why It Matters and How Natural Area Managers Can Help on Tuesday, June 18. The webinar, by Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society begins at noon, Eastern Time, which is 9 a.m., Pacific Time.
Black says he will "explain the latest science on insect declines and highlight important ways natural areas managers can incorporate invertebrate conservation into their land management portfolio. Though they are indisputably the most important creatures on earth, invertebrates are in trouble. Recent regional reports and trends in biomonitoring suggest that insects are experiencing a multi continental crisis evident as reductions in abundance, diversity and biomass. Given the centrality of insects to terrestrial and freshwater aquatic ecosystems and the food chain that supports humans, the potential importance of this crisis cannot be overstated. If we hope to stem the losses of insect diversity and the services they provide, society must take steps at all levels to protect, restore and enhance habitat for insects across landscapes, from wildlands to farmlands to urban cores. Protecting and managing existing habitat is an essential step as natural areas can act as reservoirs for invertebrate diversity." Click here for more information and to register.
Happy Pollinator Week! Think the "b" alliteration: bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. But don't forget the flies, ants, mosquitoes and moths!
(Update, June 19: the webinar can now be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/vrC-BvoQjQk.)
He's a newly selected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a group of world-class scientists known for their scientific impact or outstanding contributions.
Candidates are nominated by Fellows. Williams was nominated by James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, and seconded by Claire Kremen of the University of British Columbia, formerly of UC Berkeley.
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 is one of 13 Fellows in the Class of 2019, which also includes UC Davis physician Emanual Maverakis of the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, nominated by Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The Fellows will be inducted at the organization's annual meeting and gathering on Oct. 15. The academy, a scientific and educational institution based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on earth. The Fellows extend the academy's impact on research, public engagement, and education.
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 serves 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. It is set from Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center. Themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. (Yes, there's still time to register!)
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 (https://calibombus.com/), 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 many. 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.
Williams also holds a three-year visiting professorship to the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. The award is to lead work in sustainable agriculture, focusing in integrating multiple ecosystem services.
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
- Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America
- Robert E. Page Jr., distinguished emeritus professor, former chair of the department and provost emeritus of Arizona State University
- Walter Leal, distinguished professor and a former chair of the entomology department (he is now with the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) 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.