Native Bees in Urban Landscapes

 

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com
Svastra obliqua, one of the many stunning species of wild bees found at Jerry Smith Park. Photo by Matt Kelly, The Bee Report

Since the summer of 2018, my lab has been collaborating with Kansas City Parks and Recreation (KC Parks), Kansas City Wildlands/Bridging the Gap (KC Wildlands), and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to assess native bee abundance and diversity in the metropolitan region of Kansas City, Missouri.

Native bees are important for pollination services that sustain fruit and seed production in natural and agricultural systems. Unfortunately, many native bee species are in decline across North America (Vanbergen et al 2013). Kansas City provides an ideal setting to study how we can better conserve native bees in human-dominated landscapes.

IMG_1904 crop A
Jerry Smith West, representative of small prairie remnants that have historically been interspersed with KC area woodlands

Historically, the region of Kansas City, Missouri, has been dominated a transition zone between Eastern deciduous forest and tall grass prairie, transected by wetlands, rivers and streams. Jackson County, where my work is conducted, is home to approximately 700,000 people. Scattered across the metropolitan area are prairie and woodland remnants connected by occasional public greenways and power line transects, as well as residential areas, parks, and urban gardens. All of these spaces may provide refuge for bee communities. The historical existence of a patchwork of habitats may have also set the stage for a unique urban context, with native bees potentially pre-adapted to exploit fragmented landscapes.

My ongoing efforts have three inter-related goals: (1) engage in long-term monitoring of wild bees of Kansas City, (2) investigate the ecology and natural history of species of interest, and (3) identify practices to better support wild bees in small, remnant habitats.

Laura Presler
Avila Honors student Laura Presler inaugurates her first season of work at Jerry Smith

To date, my lab has documented abundance and diversity of bee species in remnant prairies at Jerry Smith Park in South Kansas City and in residential organic gardens in Independence, Missouri (Gastreich and Presler 2020). The data indicate that both habitats support similar levels of species diversity, although remnant prairies support a higher abundance of native bees. Certain guilds such as ground nesters, notably bumblebees (Bombus species) are common urban prairies but rare at garden sites.

My lab has also completed two years of base line monitoring at prairie remnants in Jerry Smith Park (JSP). We are currently using this data to assess variation between remnants and across years in bee community composition.

During 2020, research activities will shift toward some new priorities. In collaboration with KC Wildlands, KC Parks, and MDC, I will test a novel management technique for conserving stem-nesting bees in prairie remnants at JSP. In addition, I will to conduct a base-line survey of a unique Kansas City area habitat: the limestone glade. Details for these projects are provided below.

Managing for stem-nester conservation at Jerry Smith Park
Located in south Kansas City, Missouri, Jerry Smith Park encompasses approximately 145 has. Of this, about 16 has are managed tall grass prairie divided into two sectors, Jerry Smith East (JSE) and Jerry Smith West (JSW).

During his 2016 survey of Kansas City area bees, Mike Arduser noted a relative absence of stem nesters, particularly Ceratina spp. (Apidae) and Hylaeus spp. (Colletidae) in Jerry Smith Park. We have hypothesized that burning, an essential tool for prairie management, might damage this group of bees, whose larvae overwinter in dry stems. In response to this, KC Parks and KC Wildlands, in conjunction with MDC, have developed a management technique aimed at facilitating the survival of more stem nesting species. During the winter of 2019/2020, management personnel set aside six small patches in JSE as stem nester refugia. These patches were left intact while the rest of the prairie remnant was burned according to traditional management protocol. JSW was burned without the designation of stem nester refugia.

We will assess the density and diversity of stem nesters between burnt and unburnt patches of JSE, as well as between JSW and JSE. If stem nester refugia function to increase the survivorship of stem-nest bees, we expect more stem nesters inside refugia compared to outside the refugia. In addition, we expect JSE, which has refugia, to support more stem nesters compared to JSW, which has no refugia.

Native Bees of Rocky Point Glade and Blue River Glades
KC Wildlands, KC Parks, and MDC actively manage two limestone glade habitats in the Kansas City area: Rocky Point, located in Swope Park, and the Blue River Glades Natural Area, located southwest of Rocky Point along the Blue River Greenway.

Glades represent unique habitats with thin, rocky soil and few trees. The exposed terrain results in relatively hot, dry microclimates that support a different flora and fauna compared to surrounding woodlands. Species common to prairies can be found in glades, as well as organisms associated with drier climates such as the desert Southwest or the southern Great Plains.

The Blue River Glades Natural Area was established in 1983 and serves as a seed bank for Rocky Point, where restoration efforts started in 2003. Limited information about the bee communities exist from both sites. This summer, my lab will begin work toward consolidating our understanding of the native bee communities of Kansas City’s limestone glades. Once a month, we will conduct a standardized survey of Rocky Point Glade and the Blue River Glades Natural Area following protocols adapted from the Xerces Society for Insect Conservation. (Ward, et al. 2014). The glade habitats will then be compared with respect to native bee abundance, community composition, and diversity.

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.

Gastreich, KR, and L Presler. 2020. Remnant prairies and organic gardens provide complementary habitat for native bees within a Midwestern urban matrix. Ecological Restoration. 38(1):3-6.

Vanbergen, AJ, and The Insect Pollinators Initiative. 2013. Threats to an ecosystem service: Pressures on pollinators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 11:251-259.

Ward, K, D Cariveau, E May, M Roswell, M Vaughan, N Williams, R Winfree, R Isaacs, and K Gill. 2014. Streamlined Bee Monitoring Protocol for Assessing Pollinator Habitat. Portland, Oregon: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

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