Ever seen a bumble bee nest?
We remember when insect enthusiast Rita LeRoy of the Loma Vista Farm, part of the Vallejo City Unified School District, found the nest of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenkii, in May of 2015. They were buzzing in and out, providing nectar and pollen for the growing colony.
However, as we all know, overwintering bumble bee nests are even more difficult to find. The queen is hibernating, getting ready to emerge next spring to start a new colony.
And now comes newly published research led by the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on Fantastic Bees and Where to Find Them: Locating the Cryptic Overwintering Queens of a Western Bumble Bee.
Published Nov. 20, 2019 in Ecosphere, an open access journal of the Entomolgoical Society of America, it is drawing the attention it should.
"Bumble bees are among the best‐studied bee groups worldwide, yet surprisingly we know almost nothing about their overwintering habitats nor the microsite characteristics that govern selection of these sites. This gap represents a critical barrier for their conservation, especially if preferred overwintering habitats differ from foraging and nesting habitats. Current conservation plans focus on foraging habitat, potentially creating a problem of partial habitats where improved forage might fail to prevent population declines due to limited overwintering sites. We provide the first data on the overwintering habitat for any western North American bumble bee. Our data suggest that overwintering and foraging habitats are likely distinct, and queens' selection of overwintering sites may be shaped by environmental stressors of the year. In our study area, queens overwintered in litter beneath cypress trees, where no floral resources exist. Whether this separation of overwintering and foraging habitat holds for other bumble bee species remains to be discovered. Our data highlight the need to consider the whole life cycle for understanding population dynamics and conservation planning. This need is underscored by growing evidence for the decline of multiple North American bumble bee species."
They detailed how they "looked for overwintering queens on California's central coast. We spent ~80 person‐hours searching different ground covers around abandoned military barracks at former Fort Ord Military Base where we previously observed large numbers of nest‐searching queen Bombus vosnesenskii Radoszkowski and B. melanopygus Nylander."
"Ground cover at Fort Ord is typical of the central California coast: a patchwork of grassy meadow, mats of non‐native ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), and small stands of Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). In December 2018, we searched for bumble bee queens by carefully digging the vegetative, litter, and soil strata of grassy meadow, ice plant mat, and the needle litter under two cypress and two pine tree."
What did they find and learn? It's well worth the read: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2949
The highly respected California Academy of Sciences greeted its 2019 Class of Fellows on Oct. 15, and one of them is a pollination ecologist from the University of California, Davis.
Professor Neal Williams of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology was inducted into the scientific organization at the annual Bay Area gathering of the Fellows. The group includes more than 450 distinguished scientists who have made notable contributions to science.
Fellows nominate others for the high honor, and then the California Academy of Sciences' Board of Trustees votes on the nominees. 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.”
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 held July 17-20 on the UC Davis campus. The global conference focused on pollinator biology health and policy.
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.
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.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's bee garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (named for its major donor), js celebrating its 10 anniversary, while the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is sponsoring its first fall plant sale of the season at its teaching nursery.
The two sites are a short distance from one another: the bee garden is on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus, while the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery is on Garrod Drive, near the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
The open house, set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will include sales of plants and native bee condos, honey tasting (honey from Sola Bee Honey, Woodland), catch-and-release bee observation and identification, and beekeeping and research displays. Several mini lectures are planned.
Visitors will see an analemmatic sundial--the only one of its kind in the Sacramento area--and they can discuss the sundial with dial master and beekeeper Rick Williams, M.D. to learn how the dial was created and the links between human and bee perception of the sun, according to manager Chris Casey. Visitors also will learn about "our research on bee use of ornamental landscape plants," she said. In addition, visitors can "donate a book on insects, gardening, or nature for our Little Free Library," she announced.
- 10:30 a.m.: Donor and volunteer recognition
- 11 a.m.: Hive opening by beekeeper from the California Master Beekeepers' Association
- 11:30: Mini lecture, "Getting Started with Beekeeping"
- 12: Mini lecture, "Plants for Bees"
- 12:30: Mini lecture, "Using Solitary Bee Houses"
- 1 p.m.: Hive opening by beekeeper from the California Master Beekeepers' Association
UC Davis Arboretum Plant Sale
The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden plant sale is open to members only (but you can join at the gate) from 9 to 11 a.m., and to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The organizers promise that the one-acre nursery will offer "an incredible selection of Arboretum All-Stars, California natives, and thousands of other attractive, low-water plants perfect for making your landscape come alive with environmentally important pollinators."
What plants are available for purchase? You can download the inventory here. Cash, checks and credit cards are accepted. In addition to plants, you can buy native wildflower seeds. They will include small flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii); Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculate); Fort Miller clarkia (Clarkia williamsonii); Yellow ray goldfields (Lasthenia glabrata); Golden lupine (Lupinus microcarpus var. densiflorus); Sky lupine (Lupinus nanus); Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia); Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum); and Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii). The packets are $3 (cash only).
The packets contain native wildflower seeds recommended by pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and his lab. Their published research indicates that these are among the best annual and perennial plants for supporting pollinators--without enhancing potential pests.
More UC Davis Arboretum plant sales are scheduled Oct. 12 and Nov. 2.
Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, was a global authority on bees and he generously shared his expertise with others.
"Robbin had a long, well-respected career in pollination biology and bee taxonomy, but when he retired, he became even more engaged," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis. "He became the go-to person for everyone working on pollination in the western states. Many careers were made with his assistance."
"I've known Robbin since I was a graduate student at UC Davis," Kimsey said. "Even though he wasn't my major professor, my project was on bees and he was incredibly helpful and supportive. His enthusiasm about pollinators and bees in particular actually grew after he retired, and he continued helping students and researchers and was the backbone of so much research. His support and kindness was matched by his undemanding assistance and expertise. What a terrible loss to his family and to the research and conservation communities."
Now Kimsey is coordinating the celebration of life for Thorp. It will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11 in the Putah Creek Lodge, located on Putah Creek Lodge Drive, southwest section of the UC Davis Arboretum.
Thorp, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for 30 years, from 1964-1994, achieved emeritus status in 1994 but continued to engage in research, teaching and public service until a few weeks before his death.
A tireless advocate of pollinator species protection and conservation, Thorp was known for his expertise, dedication and passion in protecting native pollinators, especially bumble bees, and for his teaching, research and public service. He was an authority on pollination ecology, ecology and systematics of honey bees, bumble bees, vernal pool bees, conservation of bees, native bees and crop pollination, and bees of urban gardens and agricultural landscapes.
“Robbin's scientific achievements during his retirement rival the typical career productivity of many other academic scientists,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “His contributions in support of understanding bee biodiversity and systematics are a true scientific legacy.
In his retirement, Thorp co-authored two books Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University, 2014) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday, 2014). Locally, he was active in research projects and open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He detected and identified more than 80 species of bees in the haven.
Colleague Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, earlier said that "I doubt that there is anyone else in the world who can compete with his expertise in the systematics of the 20,000 species of bees on this earth."
"Robbin was one of the few people in North America who could identify bees down to the species level,” said former graduate student Katharina Ullmann, director of the UC Davis Student Farm, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and a UC Davis alumnus (doctorate in entomology).
Every summer from 2002 to 2018, Thorp volunteered his time and expertise to teach at The Bee Course, an annual workshop sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The intensive 9-day workshop, considered the world's premiere native bee biology and taxonomic course, is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists.
Highly honored by his peers, Thorp was named a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco in 1986; recipient of the Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship of UC Davis in 2010; and recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Award in 2015. Other honors included: member of the UC Davis Bee Team that won PBESA's Team Award in 2013. In addition, he was a past president (2010-2011) of the Davis Botanical Society, and former chair (1992-2011) of the Advisory Committee for the Jepson Prairie Reserve, UC Davis/Natural Reserve System.
Williams said the PBESA symposium was “perhaps the greatest honor one can receive from close colleagues--a special symposium honoring him and his contributions to the field of bee biology and pollination. We designed the symposium to honor the impact of Dr. Thorp, on the field of bee biology and conservation, but at the same time present innovative research that brings together bee and pollination biology researchers."
An authority on the critically imperiled Franklin's bumble bee, Bombus franklini, Thorp began monitoring the bumble bee population in 1998 in its narrow distribution range of southern Oregon and northern California. He had not seen it since 2006 and was instrumental in placing the bee on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He was the former regional co-chair of the North America IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group.
In August of 2016 a documentary crew from CNN, headed by John Sutter, followed Thorp to a meadow where Thorp last saw Franklin's bumble bee. Sutter wrote about Thorp, then 82, in a piece he titled "The Old Man and the Bee," a spinoff of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
His wife, Joyce, 84, preceded him in death on Dec. 9, 2018. Survivors include three children, Kelly, Katie and Jeff, and stepchildren Donna Gary and Steve Gary.