So there we were, checking out the bumble bee mimics (Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana) on May 9 at Bodega Head, Sonoma County, and along buzzes a pollen-packing Habropoda miserabilis, the bee that UC Davis doctoral alumnus Leslie Saul-Gershenz studies.
The female bee was literally making a "bee-line" for the mustard and wild radish. Bee research scientist John Ascher identified it.
We remember when Saul-Gershenz lent her expertise to the "long lost" silver digger bees found in March of 2019 in the newly restored sand dunes at the San Francisco Presidio. The Presidio, a former military post, is now owned and operated by the National Park Service.
An authority on digger bees, Saul-Gershenz confirmed to the National Park Service officials that they are H. miserabilis and were probably common in the sandy dunes of that area as late as the 1920s. When non-native ivy, eucalyptus and ice plants took over their habitat, the bees disappeared.
“The discovery of a thriving native bee colony on the western side of the Presidio is the latest example of how the removal of invasive plants and the restoration of dunes and grasses at the former military base have helped bring back coastal habitat that thrived in San Francisco for tens of thousands of years before the city was built,” said Saul-Gershenz, formerly a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service.
“I am very happy to see this nest site at the Presidio,” she told us at the time. She's worked on the biology, chemical ecology and parasite interactions of this group of bees in the genus Habropoda for many years--on research trips that have taken her to the Oregon coast and the Mojave desert, among others.
She and several colleagues are completing a paper on H. miserabilis on its distribution and host plant use in western United States: "Habropoda miserabilis Cresson (Hymenoptera: Apidae): Floral Habits, Distribution, and Nesting Biology."
“This nest parasite M. franciscanus was originally described from the dunes in San Francisco near Lake Merced by Van Dyke in 1928,” Saul-Gershenz related. “It is presumed to be locally extirpated in San Francisco due to habitat alteration. However, its host bee, H. miserabilis, appears to have finally found a suitable nest location in a sand dune area being restored by the Presidio Trust in the Presidio National Park. The resiliency of nature provides hope for the future.”
In a news story published in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 29, 2019, science reporter Peter Fimrite quoted the UC Davis-trained entomologist as saying that the silver digger bees were “all but gone” by the mid-20th century. However, Saul-Gershenz has kept looking for them. In fact, she collected one near Baker Beach in 1998.
With restoration, comes hope for the return of native plants and insects.
"Biologists have reported a more than tenfold increase in the number of native plants in the Presidio, including at least four that are federally listed endangered or threatened, among them the Presidio clarkia," wrote Fimrite. "The Franciscan manzanita, which was believed to be extinct in the wild, was discovered in the Presidio in 2009. It was the first of its kind seen in its native San Francisco since the old Laurel Hill Cemetery was bulldozed in 1947 and paved over for homes."
Gershenz and collaborator Jocelyn Millar of UC Riverside and others deciphered the sex attraction of Habropoda miserabilis and the deceptive mimicking blend used by its nest parasite Meloe franciscanus working with a population on the coast of Oregon (Saul-Gershenz et al. 2018). They documented a new parasite-host location system while conducting research on related species in the same genus Habropoda pallida found in the Mojave and Sonoran Desert (Saul-Gershenz and Millar 2006).
The comeback of silver digger bees is not limited to San Francisco. Fimrite related that several other areas in California are witnessing comebacks, including Bodega Marine Reserve in Bodega Bay and Lanphere Dunes in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Yes, they are.
It's all about insect courtship rituals and intimacy, or what entomologists sometimes call "insect wedding photography."
The Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org, a non-profit conservation organization, and its Insect Discovery Lab will sponsor an "Insect Palooza Happy Hour!" on Thursday, June 25 from 4 to 5 p.m. on the Zoom live video platform.
"Professor Norm" (that's Norman Gershenz, chief executive officer and co-founder) will preside and answer questions.
"Insects inspire our emotions--find out about mate guarding and courtship rituals," says Gershenz, who estimates the world insect population at more than 50 million species.
The Insect Palooza is limited to 25 adult participants. Registrants (register here at $15 per person).will receive a unique link. The virtual event will start exactly at 4 p.m., with 5-10 minutes allocated for questions and answers at the end of the program.
Gershenz and his wife, Leslie-Saul Gershenz, Ph.D., a bee scientist with the USDA laboratory on the UC Davis campus (she holds a doctorate in entomology from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), co-founded SaveNature.Org. Their work has drawn a number of awards as well as international attention from National Geographic, Time magazine, ABC's "World News Tonight," and other news media.
SaveNature.Org, dedicated to international conservation, has raised more than $4.7 million to help preserve thousands of acres of rain forest, coral reef and desert habitat around the world, said Gershenz, who created and developed the first Adopt-an-Acre program in the United States, as well as the award-winning Conservation Parking Meter. His credentials include 18 years with the San Francisco Zoo as an educator, member of the animal care staff, fundraiser, and researcher. In addition, he has worked as a field biologist and naturalist in Borneo, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Costa Rica and Namibia.
If you'd like to take a world tour and learn about such fascinating insects as darkling beetles, Australian walking sticks, giant African millipedes and others, be sure to sign up for the "Virtual Insect Palooza with the Insect Discovery Lab."
The program, open to all ages but limited to 25 participants, is set for 4 to 5 p.m., Friday, June 12 on Zoom, announced Norm Gershenz, chief executive officer and co-founder of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org. He also directs the organization's Insect Discovery Lab. He co-founded SaveNature.Org with wife Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a UC Davis scientist who holds a doctorate in entomology from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Professor Norm" will lead what is being billed as a "live, wild experience featuring arthropods from around the world." Viewers will be able to ask questions at the end of the program.
SaveNature.Org is an award-winning conservation organization which presents more than 800 educational outreach programs to some 38,000 children annually. National Geographic, Time magazine, and ABC's "World News Tonight" have all spotlighted the work.
Dedicated to international conservation, SaveNature.Org has raised more than $4.7 million to help preserve thousands of acres of rain forest, coral reef and desert habitat around the world, said Gershenz, who created and developed the first Adopt-an-Acre program in the United States, as well as the award-winning Conservation Parking Meter.
His credentials include 18 years with the San Francisco Zoo as an educator, member of the animal care staff, fundraiser, and researcher. In addition, he has worked as a field biologist and naturalist in Borneo, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Costa Rica and Namibia. "I have tracked black rhinos in Zimbabwe, chased orangutans in Borneo, and stalked the elusive platypus in Australia (with his camera)," he related. In his conservation work, he has handled boas and bobcats, pandas and elephants, snow leopards and koalas, hippos and hornbills.
In 2010, Gershenz received the prestigious Elizabeth Terwilliger Prize for Conservation. In 2018 the American Association of Zookeepers presented him with the Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding work in nature conservation.
Chemical ecologist and conservation biologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz of UC Davis and Norman Gershenz, conservation biologist and CEO of SaveNature.Org, will speak on “Is Insect Biodiversity, Biomass and Abundance Declining? What Can Be Done If It Is?” at a public talk on Monday night, March 2, at the Hillside Club's Fireside Lecture Series, Berkeley.
The husband-wife team of environmental scientists will address the audience at 7:30 p.m. The Bay Area venue is in north Berkeley at 2286 Cedar St., between Spruce and Arch streets. (See directions)
They will discuss what factors are affecting native bees and insect populations in California and around the world; review some of the latest body of literature on insect declines; and relate how people can participate to make a positive difference.
Also as part of the Fireside Lecture Series, Kathy Kramer, founder and coordinator of the “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour” will discuss “Garden as If Life Depends on It: How Bringing Back the Natives Can Help You Do So” at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 6.
The events are free and open to the public, but a $10 donation per talk is requested to benefit the speaker fund.
Leslie, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, and on March 1, will join the research team at the USDA-ARS Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit, Davis. She will continue collaborating with the John Muir Institute.
Norm and Leslie co-founded SaveNature.Org, an international conservation program, to "protect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems worldwide and to inspire stewardship in the public through hands-on education programs." Norm serves as the chief executive officer and director of the Insect Discovery Lab (IDL). (See article on the duo.)
SaveNature.Org conducts nearly 800 hands-on conservation education programs in schools throughout the Greater Bay Area, and reaches more than 38,500 children annually with its IDL. Their work has been highlighted in National Geographic, Time magazine, and ABC's World News Tonight. Robert Pringle's recent article, Upgrading Protected Areas to Conserve Wild Biodiversity, in the journal Nature, details the organization's collaborative work to increase the size of protected areas.
The Hillside Club is a neighborhood social club established in 1898 to promote good design practices in the Berkeley hills; today it is a community-based membership organization supporting the arts and culture.
Saul-Gershenz studies how blister beetle nest parasites mimic the sex pheromone of digger bees.
Bohart associate Emma Cluff curated the wall display, “Digger Bees and Their Nest Parasites,” which examines the life cycle, research process, results, research challenges and implications.
Saul-Gershenz, associate director of research, Wild Energy Initiative, at the John Muir Institute of the Environment, UC Davis, researches the chemical ecology and parasite-host interactions of these solitary native bees and their nest parasites across the western U. S., including the coastal sand dunes of Oregon and the Mojave Desert in south-central California.
Leslie did much of her work at the Mojave National Preserve, where she tracked the solitary bee Habropoda pallida and its nest parasite, a blister beetle, Meloe franciscanus.
The larvae of the parasitic blister beetle produce a chemical signal or allomone, similar to that of a female bee's pheromone, to lure males to the larval aggregation. The larvae attach to the male bee on contact and then transfer to the female during mating. The end result: the larvae wind up in the nest of a female bee, where they eat the nest provisions and likely the host egg.
Leslie's experiments found the allomones “released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin (larvae) mimic the pheromones released by a specific species of Habropoda bees native to their local habitat,” Cluff wrote in the display. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.”
The M. franciscanus triungulin hatching is synchronized with the emergence of adult female Habropoda bees,” the display reads. “The triungulins aggregate on plant stems and release an allomone blend which attracts male bees. The aggregation of triungulins hop on to male bees who have chosen to investigate the allomone. Once the male bees find a real female bee, they mate in a ‘mating ball' at which time the triungulins transfer to the female. All this effort is so that the triungulins can get a free ride to the nest that the female bee lays her eggs in. Once inside the nest burrow, the triungulins will feed on the net provisions and likely the egg itself and will remain there until they emerge as adults the following winter.”
Results? “Leslie's experiments found that the allomones released by each population of M. franciscanus triungulin mimic the pheromones released by a the specific species of Habropoda” Cluff wrote. “Leslie found that these differences had a genetic basis. She also found that local bee species were more attracted to the allomones released by their local triungulin population.” The research contributes to the understanding of the communication signals of bees in the genus Habropoda.
Leslie, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is currently finishing two research papers: the basic biology of digger bee Habropoda pallida, and the biology of the silver digger bee Habropoda miserabilis.
She and her husband, Norman, are the co-founders of the Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org. The international conservation consortium works with partners to protect ecosystems around the world.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens. It also includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. The museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., except during the holiday schedule. (See website)
The next open house, free and family friendly, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. It will showcase "the amazing insect work that graduate students are doing," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. The theme is "Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research."