Yes, says UC Davis alumnus and research ecologist John Mola and his colleagues in a newly published article, "The Importance of Forests in Bumble Bee Biology and Conservation," the cover story in the current edition of the journal Bioscience.
"Forests are often critical bumble bee habitat," wrote Mola, a U.S. Geological Survey Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow based at the Fort Collins Science Center, Colorado, and a former member of the Neal Williams laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He authored the research article with colleagues Jeremy Hemberger, a postdoctoral researcher in the Williams lab; Jade Kochanski of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Leif Richardson of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; and UC Davis alumnus Ian Pearse of the Fort Collins Science Center.
The cover image by Diego Delso shows a Bombus terrestris, a buff-tailed bumble bee that is one of the most numerous bumble bee species in Europe. He captured the image on a pink mulla mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus, in Estonia.
"Declines of many bumble bee species have raised concerns because of their importance as pollinators and potential harbingers of declines among other insect taxa. At present, bumble bee conservation is predominantly focused on midsummer flower restoration in open habitats. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that forests may play an important role in bumble bee life history. Compared with open habitats, forests and woody edges provide food resources during phenologically distinct periods, are often preferred nesting and overwintering habitats, and can offer favorable abiotic conditions in a changing climate. Future research efforts are needed in order to anticipate how ongoing changes in forests, such as overbrowsing by deer, plant invasions, and shifting canopy demographics, affect the suitability of these habitats for bumble bees. Forested habitats are increasingly appreciated in the life cycles of many bumble bees, and they deserve greater attention from those who wish to understand bumble bee populations and aid in their conservation."
"Despite their lower numerical abundance, recent studies have shown that these phases of bumble bee life history are especially important in determining the trajectory of their populations (Crone and Williams 2016, Carvell et al. 2017)," they wrote. "Because forests in many regions contrast with open habitats in terms of their flowering phenology, structural features, and abiotic conditions, these habitats may be particularly relevant to the understudied portions of the bumble bee life cycle. When considering the bumble bee year more broadly to include early floral resources or nesting and overwintering habitat, the role of forests, forest edges, and other woody habitats becomes more central in our understanding of bumble bee biology."
They concluded: "We hope our perspective does not provide the idea that forests are required for bumble bees but instead that they offer a cost effective means to provide foraging, nesting, and overwintering habitats that are compatible with conservation goals of other organisms (Williams 2011, Bentrup et al. 2019) and may be overlooked in studies of bumble bee biology. A recurrent problem in bumble bee conservation is the lack of informed demographic models or an understanding of basic aspects of species biology (i.e., nesting and overwintering). Increasing our capacity to incorporate forests into these efforts is likely to produce rich data sets that better inform conservation efforts and lead to the development of useful demographic models."
Active in bumble bee research, Mola is an invited participant on both the Western Bumble Bee Species Status Assessment Expert Group and the Native Bee Monitoring Research Coordination Network, and is also an organizing member (since 2020) of BOMBUSS: Building Our Methods by Using Sound Science.
"The BOMBUSS mission," according to its website, "is to bring researchers working on bumble bee biology together to discuss the methodologies currently used to investigate these important pollinators. As domestication of bumble bees has expanded worldwide, so has research on this group of bees as model organisms for study, as crop pollinators, and as conservation targets. The growth of this field of study has been rapid, prompting the organizers to convene this meeting to discuss the need and potential for standardization of methods."
BOMBUSS goals are five-fold:
- to identify the areas where common methodology already exists,
- identify areas where best practices can be suggested,
- identify gaps in the literature regarding methodology,
- share knowledge and build networks for advancing our science,
- formulate plans to address the gaps through peer-reviewed publication.
Mola received his doctorate in ecology in 2019 from UC Davis. He presented his exit seminar on "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire."
At UC Davis, Mola was a Professors for the Future Fellow, receiving a year of professional development and pedagogical training. His honors also include a 2013-2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship of $133,500 and a 2014-2016 UC Davis Graduate Group in Ecology Fellowship of $43,000. He won the graduate student research poster competition at the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium for his work on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics."
And now doctoral candidate John Mola of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present his exit seminar on "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9 in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
Mola, who specializes in bee biology, pollinator ecology and population genetics, says in his abstract:
"Observing bumble bees on flowers can be a deceptive practice. When standing in a field looking at a bunch of bees, we have little clue about the distances they traveled to get there or the number of colonies to which the individuals belong. However, modern genetic tools let us reveal this unseen information. In my dissertation I use genetic mark-recapture to understand two areas of general ecological interest and apply them to bumble bees: organismal movement and disturbance ecology. In this talk I discuss what I learned about bumble bee movement ecology in a subalpine meadow complex and insights gained from an unexpected opportunity to study the response of a bumble bee population to wildfire."
Mola holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental studies from Florida State University, and a master's degree in biology at Humboldt State University. He enrolled in the UC Davis Ph.D. program in ecology in 2014.
In August 2019 Mola published a "Review of Methods for the Study of Bumble Bee Movement" in Apidologie with his major professor, co-author and pollination ecologist Neal Williams. The abstract:
"Understanding animal movement is critical for conservation planning, habitat management, and ecological study. However, our understanding is often limited by methodological constraints. These limitations can be especially problematic in the study of ecologically and economically important pollinators like bumble bees, where several aspects of their biology limit the feasibility of landscape-scale studies. We review the methods available for the study of bumble bee movement ecology, discussing common limitations and tradeoffs among several frequent data sources. We provide recommendations on appropriate use for different life stages and castes, emphasizing where recent methodological advances can help reveal key components of understudied parts of the bumble bee life cycle such as queen movement and dispersal. We emphasize that there is no one correct method and encourage researchers planning studies to carefully consider the data requirements to best address questions of interest."
Mola expanded on the topic on his website: "This manuscript contains more within it than the title alone lets on. Understanding the landscape-scale movements of bumble bees has long-plagued researchers despite heavy interest. In some ways reviewing the methods is to review the history of bumble bee movement research. We cover the tools one may use for tracking bumble bees. We also include information on how to interpret and contextualize results, considerations on conceptualizing bumble bee movement, and suggestions for future research efforts. I think folks will find the table and supplemental information particularly handy in planning research and writing manuscripts (we provide a long list of great studies on bumble bee movement in the supplemental). If you're really interested in the research area, consider coming to BOMBUSS 2.0 where Jamie Strange and I will be co-leading a session on this very topic. https://wildlifepreservation.ca/about-bombuss/"
In 2018, Mola wowed the judges at the graduate student research poster competition at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium for his work on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics." As the first-place winner, he received the $850 cash prize. The judges: Tom Seeley, professor at Cornell University, the symposium's keynote speaker; speaker Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis.
“In conservation biology and ecological study, we must know the distances organisms travel and the scales over which they go about their lives,” Mola said of his work at the time. “To properly conserve species, we have to know how much land they need, how close those habitats need to be to each other, and the impact of travel on species success. For instance, if I'm told there's free burritos in the break room, I'm all over it. If the 'free' burritos require me traveling to Scotland, it's not worth it and I would spend more energy (and money) than I would gain. For pollinators, it's especially important we understand their movement since the distances they travel also dictates the quality of the pollination service they provide to crop and wild plants."
“Despite this importance, we know comparatively little about the movements of bees--the most efficient of pollinators--due to the difficulty of tracking individuals," Mola explained.
Mola says that "Unlike birds or large mammals, we can't just attach large radio collars and follow them around. As such, my work has focused on improving methods that we can use for study. I use a combination of landscape ecology and molecular genetics to identify the locations of siblings (colony-mates) in landscapes. From that information, we can infer all sorts of useful information about the potential foraging range, habitat use, population size, etc. It's a very exciting time to be working on these topics as the availability of new genetic and GPS technologies allows us to answer or re-address scientific and conservation issues with bees.”
Mola's next step: Fort Collins, Colo., where he will be a USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) Mendenhall postdoctoral fellow.
John Mola, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the $850 first-place award with his presentation on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics."
“In conservation biology and ecological study, we must know the distances organisms travel and the scales over which they go about their lives,” Mola said of his work. “To properly conserve species, we have to know how much land they need, how close those habitats need to be to each other, and the impact of travel on species success. For instance, if I'm told there's free burritos in the break room, I'm all over it. If the 'free' burritos require me traveling to Scotland, it's not worth it and I would spend more energy (and money) than I would gain. For pollinators, it's especially important we understand their movement since the distances they travel also dictates the quality of the pollination service they provide to crop and wild plants."
“Despite this importance, we know comparatively little about the movements of bees--the most efficient of pollinators--due to the difficulty of tracking individuals," Mola explained. "Unlike birds or large mammals, we can't just attach large radio collars and follow them around. As such, my work has focused on improving methods that we can use for study. I use a combination of landscape ecology and molecular genetics to identify the locations of siblings (colony-mates) in landscapes. From that information, we can infer all sorts of useful information about the potential foraging range, habitat use, population size, etc. It's a very exciting time to be working on these topics as the availability of new genetic and GPS technologies allows us to answer or re-address scientific and conservation issues with bees.”
In his abstract, Mola related: "Understanding the way organisms move through environments is crucial to our ability to monitor, study, or conserve species--after all, a habitat that is wholly inaccessible is no habitat at all. However, studies of wild bee movement lag far behind those of many numerous individuals. This limits our ability to answer basic questions like how large of an area is needed for individuals to forage? Or how close do conservation areas need to be connected? For honey bees, we can answer these questions through the study of their infamous waggle dance--which reveals the distance and director of their travel. However, most bees do not possess these complex communication behaviors and so our ability to understand their patterns of movement has rlied on mark-recapture, observation, and nascent advances in radar tracking or molecular methods."
He went on to share that "Here, I present a novel methodology for studying bumble bee movement using high-throughput sequencing techniques. This method provides substantial improvement in the accuracy of estimations while simultaneously giving us insight into fine-scale population genetics. Both factors can be important in the conservation and study of pollinators and our ability to 'keep bees healthy." I demonstrate the method's utility by presenting a few case studies of its implementation, and the insight we gain into wild bumble bee movement."
Judges were Tom Seeley, professor at Cornell University, the symposium's keynote speaker; speaker Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis. Master beekeeper/journalist Mea McNeil of San Anselmo served as the timer and coordinator for the panel.
Mola, who aims for a career "to run a collaborative research program as a faculty member at a research-oriented university,” received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2011 from Florida State University,Tallahassee, and his master's degree in 2014 from Humboldt State University, Arcata, in biology.
Second place of $600 went to Maureen Page, a second-year Ph.D. student in Neal Williams lab for her research, “Impacts of Honey Bee Abundance on the Pollination of Eschscholzia californica (California golden poppy).”
Page presented her research on the impacts of honey bee abundance on native plant pollination. “While honey bees are economically important, they are not native to North America and may have negative impacts on native bees and native plant communities in certain contexts,” she related. “My research is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that honey bee abundance may negatively affect the pollination of California poppies.”
In her abstract, Page wrote: "Many studies support the claim that introduced honey bees compete with native pollinators. However, little is known about how honey bee introductions will affect native plant communities and plant species' persistence."
Page, who seeks a career as a professor and principal investigator, received her bachelor's degree in biology from Scripps College, Claremont, Calif. in 2006, cum laude.
Third-Place, $300: Doctoral student Emily Kearney of UC Berkeley, for her research on “How Does Landscape Context Affect the Pollinator Community of Chocolate (Theobroma cacao)."
Fourth-Place (tie, $250 each): Doctoral student Jacob Francis of the University of Nevada, for his “A Sweet Solution to the Pollen Paradox: Nectar Mediates Bees' Responses to Defended Pollen” and Katie Uhl, a master's student, UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, for her “Determination of Volatile Organic Compounds in Mono-Floral Honey Using HS-SPME/GC/MS."
Fifth-Place ($150): Doctoral student Kimberly Chacon, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group, for her “A Landscape Ecology Approach to Bee Conservation and Habitat Design."
The annual Bee Symposium is sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, headed by director Amina Harris, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, chaired by nematologist and professor Steve Nadler. Neal Williams serves as the co-faculty director of the Honey and Pollination Center.