Prairie Bees

Karin with her netMy current research in ecology focuses on the wild bee populations of the greater Kansas City area. Like many places in North America, bees in western Missouri have not been well monitored and are likely to be in decline. While industrial farmers bring in honeybees to pollinate their crops, in some agricultural areas wild bees are more important as pollinators (Kremen and M’Gonigle 2015). Wild species often depend on a variety of habitats – including both open and wooded areas – that provide nesting grounds, feeding resources such as wildflowers, and connectivity between patches (Driscoll et al 2013).

Scattered across the greater Kansas City area are a number of prairie remnants and restoration areas, connected by occasional public greenways and power line transects, that provide a unique opportunity to study wild bee populations in urban and semi-urban environments. In a preliminary survey of Kansas City area parks, Missouri conservation biologist Mike Ardhuser (2016) identified 89 wild bee species collected from 45 species of flowering plants, including one species new to Missouri. Jerry Smith Park, located just south of Avila University, presented a species composition similar to well-preserved tall grass prairie. Jerry Smith also had a high proportion of pollen specialists, at least 9 conservative species, and two rare species. Ardhuser concluded that Jerry Smith Park contains a prime prairie remnant with considerable conservation value.

Jerry Smith West May 2018
Early spring at Jerry Smith Park

My lab at Avila University is interested in following up on this research. We hope to (1) fully characterize the wild bee communities of Jerry Smith Park and other Kansas City area natural habitats, and (2) determine to what extent wild bee populations, especially those dependent on remnant prairies, are isolated from each other within the urban matrix. This is important because connectivity – the degree to which genes can flow between populations – impacts the viability of populations for conservation purposes.

We are just getting started on this research. The 2018 field season will be dedicated to laying the foundation for long-term monitoring of wild bee species at Jerry Smith Park and in the greater Kansas City Area. Specific projects for the 2018 field season are described below. Follow my journal at for regular updates. You can also follow us at Avila University’s Environmental Science page on Facebook.

Wild bee communities in a prairie remnant, restoration area, and urban gardens

Laura PreslerThis project will be conducted by Avila biology student Laura Presler as part of her honors research project for the biology degree. Laura is interested in learning what bee species are supported by different habitats in the Kansas City area. She will compare the bee communities at two prairie conservation areas (remnant and restoration) and two urban gardens. The remnant prairie is a small patch within Jerry Smith Park that has, for all practical purposes, managed to persist despite the history of settlement and urbanization around it. The restored area has undergone intensive management over the past 10-15 years to be converted from young woodland back to the original prairie ecosystem. Laura and I will be collecting bees from these sites occasionally throughout the summer. At the end of the season, we will compare the number of species and abundance of bees between sites to draw conclusions as to how each type of habitat contributes to overall bee diversity in the Kansas City area.

Laura’s work will provide important baseline data for long-term monitoring of the wild bees of Jerry Smith Park and the greater Kansas City area.

Comparison of productivity of prairie remnant and restoration habitats

Brandon Cooper April 13 2018This project will be conducted by Avila biology student Brandon Cooper as part of his capstone research project for the biology degree. Brandon would like to know whether remnant and restored prairies differ in the number of resources they offer for an important group of pollinators, the mason bees. As an estimate of mason bee productivity, he will measure the rate of colony growth in both remnant and restored prairies at Jerry Smith Park. This experiment is modeled after a similar study conducted by Goulson et al. (2002) of bumblebee productivity in agricultural and suburban habitats. In the spring, Brandon will place mason bee houses in both habitats. He will then monitor the rate at which mason bee houses are filled with larvae. At the end of the experiment, he will weigh the total mass of larvae produced by both habitats. Mason bee larvae will be kept in storage at ambient temperatures over the winter and allowed to hatched out at Jerry Smith Park in spring of 2019.

Managing Prairie Habitat for Stem Nesters

Hylaeus nigritus, by Fritz Geller-Grimm (Own work), Wikimedia Common

During his 2016 survey of Kansas City area bees, Ardhuser noted a relative absence of stem nesters, particularly Ceratina spp. (Apidae) and Hylaeus spp. (Colletidae) in remnant and restoration areas that had undergone recent burning treatments. It has been noted in some studies that burns, an essential tool for prairie management, might be particularly damaging to this group of bees, whose larvae overwinter in dry stems (Tonietto and Larkin 2017). Kansas City Parks, in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Conservation, has expressed interest in exploring management techniques aimed at facilitating the survival of stem nesting species while maintaining an adequate burning regime.

To this end, the general survey to be conducted this summer, described above, will also be used to establish baseline data for the presence/absence of stem nesters in the remnant prairie of Jerry Smith Park (JSE). Because JSE has not been subject to burning this winter, we expect to find stem nesters. During the winter of 2018/2019, Kansas City Parks and MDC will designate stem nester ‘refugia’ as part of their burning regime for the park. Subsequent bee surveys will hopefully help determine whether these refugia are successful at providing stem nesting habitat for this particular guild of wild bees.

References and Further Reading

Ardhuser, Mike. 2016. Report on bees collected at Jerry Smith Park and Rocky Point (Swope Park), Kansas City, Missouri, April-October 2016. Submitted to Burroughs Audubon Society and Bridging the Gap/Kansas City Wildlands.

Driscoll, D.A., S.C. Banks, P.S. Barton, D.B. Lindenmayer, and A.L. Smith. 2013. Conceptual domain of the matrix in fragmented landscapes. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 28:605-613.

Goulson, D., W.O.H. Hughs, L.C. Derwent., and J.C. Stout. 2002. Colony growth of the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, in improved and conventional agricultural and suburban habitats. Oecologia 130:267-273.

Kremen, Claire, and Leithen K. M’Gonigle. 2015. Small-scale restoration in intensive agricultural landscapes supports more specialized and less mobile pollinator species. Journal of Applied Ecology. 52:602-610.

Tonietto, Rebecca K. and Daniel J. Larkin. 2017. Habitat restoration benefits wild bees: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology. 55:582-590.

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