- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The podcast, "The Buzz on Native Bees in Your Neighborhood," is online.
"When I say 'bees,' you probably think of a neat stack of white hive boxes and the jars of honey on the store shelves, right?" Flatow began. "But there's a lot more to bees than that. Because around the world, there are over 20,000 known bee species, and 4,000 of them are native to the U.S. And while these native bees that live in the wild play a key role in pollinating our plants, they don't get a ton of recognition or support like the ones that live in a box."
Professor Williams discussed a number of bee species, including bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, mining bees ("bees that burrow into the ground or soil") and mason bees and leafcutter bees.
Mason bees, Williams said, build their nests "partly out of mud, which then dries. And the leafcutter bees are chewing pieces of leaves and making their nests out of those leaf pieces, either as whole chunks of leaves or as chewed up bits of leaves. We have a series of other small to large bees that nest on the ground or nest above ground that fall into other families. But probably those are the most familiar for most people."
Williams called attention to research led by his then graduate student, and now postdoctoral fellow, Maureen Page, who compared "the quality of honey bees at pollinating flowers versus the quality of other bees. And in general, we find that honey bees are sort of equal or slightly less good than many other bees. And the old adage, the jack of all trades is the master of none--the honey bee is really that jack of all trades. It's very wide in the number of flowers that it will visit, but doesn't tend to be particularly effective on any one flower visit relative to some of the other bees we have."
The alfalfa leafcutter bee "is a really effective pollinator relative to the honeybees at pollinating alfalfa," he told Flatow.
"So your bumble bee is sort of the lab animal, then," Flatow commented. "It's not a white mouse. It's a bumble bee."
Williams agreed. "It's become a pretty useful organism for studying things in the lab. I should say the other group that we work a lot with are mason bees and leafcutter bees. And because of the way they nest, they have been really useful for studying other sorts of questions. So there are a couple of groups that we work well with."
Williams also touched on the threats faced by native bees. In addition to pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides), "they're threatened by the loss of reliable foraging floral resources," Williams said. "They are threatened by a set of emerging diseases. And this is, again, where the honey bee gets a lot of attention, right? This colony collapse may be resulting from certain viruses, but wild bees, native bees, also have some substantial problems with certain viruses and also other kinds of pathogens."
"And then a really big one is climate change. So we have to fully recognize that changes in rainfall and also changes in temperature patterns seem to be stressing bees in different parts of the U.S., for sure."
Flatow, whose colleagues say has "revived many an office plant at death's door," asked: "Can I plant a little patch of wild flowers in a pot or in the yard and really help out?"
"This is also one of these questions that's a complex one, but we'll try not to make it too complex," Williams said. "I mean, in general, planting flowers for bees is a useful thing. The one thing we'd want to be careful about if we were planting flowers in the yard is that we were also being careful about the use of some of these chemical pesticides. But I think also recognizing the importance of natural areas and broader stewardship of habitat for bees across the landscape is really important. And this tricky one with climate change, too--what are we going to do? We don't solve climate change with the sorts of things that we would do– small-scale actions--to help bees."
"But we can do some things probably--providing shady spots, where they have what we call microclimates that are maybe protecting them from times where there are heat waves that are particularly problematic--things like that that could be useful."
Williams, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in 2009, was named a Chancellor's Fellow in 2015, a five-year program supporting his research, teaching and public service. He was named a a Highly Cited Researcher by Clarivate Analytics in 2018, and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 2021.
A native of Madison, Wisc., he received his doctorate in ecology and evolution from Stony Brook University, New York in 1999.
- Neal Williams, biography, Wikipedia
- Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Evidence of exploitative competition between honey bees and native bees in two California landscapes by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, June 2023, Journal of Animal Ecology
- Honey bee introductions displace native bees and decrease pollination of a native wildflower by Maureen Page and Neal Williams, December 2022, Journal of Ecology
- A meta-analysis of single visit pollination effectiveness comparing honey bees and other floral visitors by Maureen Page, Charlie Nicholson, Ross Brennan and Neal Williams, October 2021, American Journal of Botany
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will be one of three guests on the National Public Radio program, Science Friday, on Friday, May 24. The program will air live at noon.
“I will be talking a bit about my research and extension program and will be there to answer questions from the public about bees,” said Niño, who will be interviewed tomorrow (Friday) at a studio on the UC Davis campus.
The program, hosted by Ira Flatow, features two other guests: Professor Tom Seeley, bee scientist, researcher and author, of Cornell University, Ithaca; and New York city police officer and beekeeper Darren Mays, who keeps hives on the roof of the 104th precinct.
Senior producer Christopher Intagliata said plans call for introducing Seeley at the top of the hour, and then bringing in Niño around 12:30. Officer Mays will be introduced at 12:40.
Niño, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2014 from Pennsylvania State University, researches honey bee biology, health, reproduction, pollination biology, insect ecology, evolution, genomics and chemical ecology, and genomics. She directs the California Master Beekeeper Program and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.
Born and reared in Bosnia in Eastern Europe, Elina moved to the United States with plans to become a veterinarian. She obtained her bachelor's degree in animal science at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., but while there, enrolled in an entomology class on the recommendation of her adviser. “I was hooked,” she recalled.
Following her graduation from Cornell in 2003, she received her master's degree in entomology from North Carolina State University and her doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University. She then served as a postdoctoral fellow in the honey bee lab of Christina Grozinger, who studies the genomics of chemical communication.
Seeley, a frequent speaker at UC Davis, keynoted the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium. He is the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University. He joined the faculty of Cornell in 1986 and holds a doctorate in biology from Harvard.
Seeley says that is scientific work primarily focuses on "understanding the phenomenon of swarm intelligence (SI): the solving of cognitive problems by a group of individuals who pool their knowledge and process it through social interactions. It has long been recognized that a group of animals, relative to a solitary individual, can do such things as capture large prey more easily and counter predators more effectively. More recently it has been realized that a group of animals, with the right organization, can also solve cognitive problems with an ability that far exceeds the cognitive ability of any single animal. Thus SI is a means whereby a group can overcome some of the cognitive limitations of its members. SI is a rapidly developing topic that has been investigated mainly in social insects (ants, termites, social wasps, and social bees) but has relevance to other animals, including humans. Wherever there is collective decision-making—for example, in democratic elections, committee meetings, and prediction markets—there is a potential for SI."
Seeley is the author of numerous books, including Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life, Princeton University Press; The Wisdom of the Hive: The Social Physiology of Honeybee Colonies. Harvard University Press; Honeybee Democracy. Princeton University Press, Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. Princeton University Press; and The Lives of the Bees: The Untold Story of Honey Bees in the Wild, Princeton University Press.
Mays is a well-known rooftop beekeeper. According to a 2018 article in the Business Insider, he "gained temporary fame this summer when he vacuumed up a migrating swarm of bees that perched atop a hot dog cart umbrella in Times Square." At night, he patrols the streets of Queens, and by day, he keeps the bees.
"Mays and another officer, Michael Lauriano, are responsible for responding to any issue a New Yorker calls in with that involves a 'stinging insect.' He said he responds to about a dozen calls during a typical summer, as people request help with bee swarms, wasps nests, and more. Before Mays and Lauriano, an officer named Anthony 'Tony Bees' Planakis served as the NYPD's first bee 911 responder."