But there's much more to it than that. What's in that floral nectar and pollen?
Think plant-pollinator-pathogen webs.
Rebecca Irwin, professor of applied ecology at North California State University, Raleigh, is traveling to UC Davis to present a seminar on "The Role of Floral Traits in Pollination and Bee Disease Transmission."
Her seminar, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is set for 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 in 122 Briggs Hall. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor and coordinator of the weekly seminars, will introduce her.
"Secondary compounds play a critical role in plant defense against herbivores," says Irwin in her abstract. "Although these compounds can increase plant resistance to herbivore feeding, they can also benefit herbivores by reducing parasitism. There is now widespread evidence that these same secondary compounds are also found in floral nectar and pollen."
"I will share multiple lines of evidence from a variety of collaborative projects in the lab and field suggesting that floral secondary compounds can reduce parasitism in bees, and that bees may be able to selectively forage on flowers with these compounds when they are parasitized," Irwin says. "Because floral secondary compounds alter pollinator behavior, they also have the potential to affect patterns of pollen movement and plant fitness. However, evidence suggests different effects across plant species. Finally, I will share with you results exploring the degree to which secondary compounds and other floral traits affect pollinator disease transmission in the field. Taken together, this seminar will provide empirical evidence into the diversity of roles that secondary compounds, and floral traits more generally, can play in plant-pollinator-pathogen webs."
Irwin, who received her doctorate from the University of Vermont, says on her website that the Irwin lab combines "concepts and techniques from studies of plant-pollinator and plant-herbivore interactions to understand the ecological and evolutionary consequences of pollination mutualisms and how they will respond to environmental change. We also study the disease ecology and transmission biology of bees and their pathogens."
Irwin also shares her expertise on bee condos or bee hotels. "From humble coffee cans to fancier hotels with a roof, there are many ways to get creative with the design. Here, we provide a brief introduction into building a simple first time bee hotel."
And, she says, "hotels work better when facing southeast."
if you want to build your own bee housing units, check out the information on her website.
She spoke on "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation" to a capacity crowd gathered July 18 in the ARC Ballroom.
“Who needs to act?" she asked. "Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses.”
Quoting noted biologist/author E. O. Wilson, Dicks said that insects are “the little things that run the world.”
Dicks began her presentation by chronicling news media accounts of “insectageddon,” which Cambridge fellow Robert Macfarlane defined on Twitter as “the current calamitous population decline of insect species globally, with catastrophic results for life on earth.”
One news story, by environment editor Damian Carrington of The Guardian, warned that "The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems." Carrington, in his Feb. 10, 2019 piece, titled “Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse of Nature," wrote that “More than 40 percent of insect species are declining and a third are endangered...The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.”
“Wild insect pollinators have declined in occurrence, diversity, and in some cases, abundance, in Europe and North America,” Dicks told the crowd. “Lack of data for other regions prevents global assessment of status for insect pollinators, but the main drivers of decline are operating everywhere.”
“Why does pollinator decline matter?” she asked. “Eighty-eight percent of wild plant species depend on pollinators. At least half of the crop pollination serves are provided by wild pollinators—half by managed honey bees.”
Farmers, governments, conservationists, researchers, the general public and businesses must get involved, she reiterated.
What Farmers Should Do
For example, she said, farmers should
- Plant flowers for nectar and pollen
- Manage hedges and forest edges for wildlife
- Restore and protect flower-rich native habitats like meadows, scrubland and woodland
- Provide set aside or fallow areas
- Leave field edges and corners to naturally generate
- Provide nesting sites for bees ("bare ground, big old trees and bee hotels")
What the General Public Should Do
The general public's role should be:
- Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees
- Let your garden grow wild
- Cut your grass less often
- Don't disturb insect nest and hibernation spots
- Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
What Governments Should Do
Dicks touched on 10 "pollinator policies" that governments should do:
- Raise pesticide regularly standards
- Promote integrated pest management
- Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessment
- Regulate movement of managed pollinators
- Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals
- Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in a extension services
- Support diversified farming systems
- Conserve and restore 'green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes
- Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination
- Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified and ecologically intensive farming
Dicks, in her position at the University of East Anglia, engages in research in entomology, agroecology, management of biodiversity and ecosystem services on farms. (See research profile.)
In addition to addressing pollinator decline and "who needs to act and what should they do," the researcher touched on how to motivate people: "insights from the behavioral sciences; and the importance of local knowledge and culture."
Awareness and Understanding Are Not Sufficient
She offered key insights from behavioral science, noting that "awareness and understanding are not sufficient; decisions are not always rational; social norms are important; peer-to-peer communication within social groups drives behavior change and people must feel ABLE to act in their current context."
Dicks recommended that the attendees become acquainted with the work of the coalition Promote Pollinators (https://promotepollinators.org). An excerpt from the website: "Pollinators play a key role in the conservation of biological diversity, ecosystems, food production and the global economy. The effects of current human activities hamper animal pollination. Promote Pollinators, the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators, reaches out to potential new partners to develop and implement national pollinator strategies. The coalition believes that country-led politics can foster policy measures and innovative action on protecting pollinators."
She also cited the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Dicks described pollinator decline as "a complex issue." People--including some politicians--have to change to help protect the pollinators and the ecosystem.
How Some Politicians Use Science
Dicks quoted author Mark Avery, former director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: "I have rarely seen a policy argument won through logic and science, even though everybody pretends that they are. No, politicians use science like a drunk uses a lamp post--more for support than for illumination."
The conference, “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” covered 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. (See agenda.)
Dicks keynoted the conference on Thursday morning, July 18, and Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, delivered a keynote address on Friday, July 19, discussing "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes."
Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, both of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, co-chaired the conference. Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and events manager Elizabeth Luu coordinated the four-day event.
Presenters from 15 Countries
Williams said that presenters represented 15 countries: Australia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. "And we had at least one attendee from China--although not presenting."
"This was the fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy," Williams said. "Each time we try to add new elements that address emerging challenges and new directions in research. This year's sessions felt as fresh and innovative as ever, adding symposia on climate change, innovative monitoring and data collection, and urban bees. By restricting presenters to those who had not presented in the past six years we also added new voices and perspectives."
"We also grew. In the past the conference has been just under 200 attendees. This year it topped 250, and we had to turn away several people because we simply could not fit more into the space. We added a second evening of posters to provide more time to interact. The response was overwhelming with 112 poster presenters!"
Williams said that the conference "also added more explicit policy elements by creating a set of ViewPOINTS documents summarizing key areas in pollinator biology and heath that target policy makers. This has allowed for collaborative interaction across the attendees and a set of deliverable products from our interactions."
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, coordinated the conference, with events manager Elizabeth "Liz" Luu serving in the lead role.
"It was an amazing team effort pulling it all together," Williams said. "Liz Luu from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center (HRC) was in a word, fantastic, keeping every thing and everyone together. The HPC really showed what it can do and what tremendous value it adds to our campus. The organizing committee worked so well together, sharing the load throughout. A great set of colleagues!"
The next International Pollinator Conference will take place at Pennsylvania State University. Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University launched the conference in 2012. They are held every third year.
(June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week.)
"How many? Does anyone know?"
No one did, but by the end of the Pollination Education Program, sponsored by CAMBP, all 72 youths from the Sutter Creek and Ione area of Amador County did: 20,000.
They also learned that there are 4000 species of bees in the United States, 1600 species in California, and 350 in Yolo County.
And they learned that pollinators include honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, sweat bees, hummingbirds and syrphid flies.
"Can you all say entomologist?" Mather asked. "Does anyone know what entomology means?"
"Insects," said one youth.
"Yes, entomology is the scientific study of insects," Mather told them. That's what each and everyone of you is today: entomologists! Okay?
She explained the life cycle of a bee: from egg to larva to pupa to adult. "Males are called drones," she said. "Females are called worker bees."
Toward the end of the program, Mather told the students: "You are ready for the university. As soon as you graduate from high school, I hope to see you guys here. You are all excellent, very respectable, responsible and mature scientists. I want you to please take the knowledge that you gathered here today and share it with family and friends."
The Pollinator Education Program (PEP), developed two years ago by CAMPB director and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, along with staff research associate Bernardo Niño, aims to provide a fun, immersive educational experience "to help kids of all ages understand the importance pollinators play in the lives of humans."
At the recent session, Mather shared data on native bees, explained the life cycle of a honey bee, encouraged students to be citizen scientists, and demonstrated how to carefully collect bee specimens with a bee vacuum in a catch-and-release activity.
Volunteer Robin Lowry managed the “Planting for Pollinators” and “Be a Beekeeper” station. Students tried on beekeeping suits and tested the equipment, including a smoker and hive tools.
Volunteer Julia Wentzel introduced the concept of "pollinator specialists" and engaged the students in creating a "pollinator" which they then used to transfer "pollen" to different shaped flowers. Diverse floral sources are integral to honey bee health, she said.
Matthew Hoepfinger, staff research associate in the Niño lab, opened a bee hive (inside a screened tent) and showed the students the queen, workers and drones.
Just before boarding the buses for home, the students sampled several varietals of honey. "This is really good!" a girl said. "I want more."
Ron Antone of the UC Master Gardeners of Amador coordinates the annual program, working with Amador school officials, parents and master gardeners. This year he coordinated two groups:
- Jackson Elementary. 62 third graders, 3 teachers, 2 aides, 3 parents and 2 Master Gardener volunteers from Amador County.
- Ione Elementary. 72 third graders, 3 teachers, 7 parents, 3 Master Gardeners and 3 volunteers from Farms of Amador.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology operates the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, with Elina Lastro Niño serving as the garden's faculty director and Christine Casey as the manager. Two others from the Niño lab--staff research associate Charley Nye, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, and staffer Christine Torres--assisted with the pollinator education programs.
"It takes a village as they say," Mather said.
That it does.
A tip of the bee veil to CAMBP, PEP, the Niño lab, and the UC Master Gardeners of Amador County for their roles in educating youth about pollinators.
Salivating over salvia?
You can see, salivate--and purchase--salvias and more at the spring premiere plant sale sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden on Saturday, April 6.
They'll offer everything from "Bee's Bliss" to "Black Lace" to "Blaze" to "Brilliance." Among the many others: "Whirly Blue, "Pozo Blue," "Marine Blue," "Little Kiss," "Midnight," "Pink Cadillac" and "Hot Lips."
The plant sale, open to the public, is set from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the one-acre Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. It's a great place to buy plants to attract our pollinators: bees, butterflies, birds, beetles and bats. Not to mention syrphid flies, aka hover flies/flower flies!
You can download the plant sale inventory on the website. Favorites include the Arboretum All-Stars and California native plants, as well as herbs, perennials, shade plants, bushes, trees, vines and more.
Can't make it on Saturday, April 6? Plant sales are also scheduled Saturday, April 27 and Saturday, May 11.
Happy spring! Happy salivating! And happy/hungry pollinators!
Remember those "long lost" silver digger bees found last week at the San Francisco Presidio? They hadn't been seen in large aggregations for nearly a century.
And yet there they were in the newly restored sand dunes at the Presidio, a former military post now owned and operated by the National Park Service.
UC Davis entomologist Leslie Saul-Gershenz lent her expertise when a volunteer discovered the thriving colonies of bees. An authority on digger bees, she confirmed that they are Habropoda 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, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now associate director of research for the Wild Energy Initiative, John Muir Institute of the Environment, on campus.
“I am very happy to see this nest site at the Presidio,” she said. 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.
“This nest parasite M. franciscanus was originally described from the dunes in San Francisco near Lake Merced by Van Dyke in 1928,” Saul-Gershenz said. “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, science reporter Peter Fimrite quoted the UC Davis 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."
Brian Hildebidle, stewardship coordinator for the Presidio Trust, discovered the colonies while surveying a dune restoration project. Jonathan Young, wildlife ecologist for the Presidio Trust, was also included in the news story.
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 are witnessing comebacks, including Bodega Marine Reserve in Bodega Bay and Lanphere Dunes in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
We remember seeing volunteers at Dillon's Beach, Bodega Bay, last summer removing ice plants by the bird sanctuary, and in the process, giving native plants, native insects and related wildlife a chance to thrive. We remember beachcombers asking "Why? Why are they doing that? Those ice plants are so PRETTY."
The discovery at the Presidio is why.
As Saul-Gershenz points out, there are 1600 native bee species in California, but scientists know little about many of them.
They are all pollinators. And all life is connected. As naturalist/environmental philosopher John Muir (1838-1914) wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
So it is with the silver digger bees. That's why they're gold.