Prairie Bees


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

My 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 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 and feeding resources such as wildflowers (Driscoll et al 2013).

Jerry Smith West May 2018
Early spring at Jerry Smith Park

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.

My lab at Avila University is following up on this research to (1) establish long-term monitoring of wild bee communities of Kansas City, (2) study the ecology and natural history of specific species of conservation interest, and (3) identify management practices to better support wild bees, particularly in prairie restoration areas.

Karin with her netAs part of my 2019 research objectives, I would also like to consider whether Kansas City 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 individuals can move between populations – impacts the ability of a species to persist. I am laying the foundation for this work by exploring the use of GIS technology to estimate habitat heterogeneity and connectivity for selected sites within the Kansas City area (after Boscolo et al. 2017).

Want to know more? Specific projects for the 2019 field season are described below. You can also follow my journal at for regular updates, or follow us at Avila University’s Environmental Science page on Facebook or on Twitter @EolynChronicles.

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

Laura Presler
Avila student Laura Presler

In the summer of 2018, we compared species abundance and diversity in organic urban gardens versus restored and remnant prairies. Preliminary analysis indicates while restored and remnant prairies at Jerry Smith Park had much higher numbers of bees, there was no difference in species richness or relative abundance when comparing garden versus prairie remnant and restoration sites. In other words, similar numbers of species were observed at all sites. However, somewhat different species turned up in urban gardens versus prairie remnants and restoration areas. These results suggest that prairie remnants, restoration sites, and home gardens can play important, complementary roles in sustaining native bee communities even within highly urbanized environments.

Yes, it’s true: Your garden – no matter how small – is important for wild bees! We are still assessing the many implications of this data, so stay tuned for more details. As we move into the spring and summer of 2019, we will initiate a new round of sampling at Jerry Smith Park as well as at selected sites within the urban matrix in a continued effort to understand the structure and composition of Kansas City’s bee community.

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, Missouri conservation biologist Mike Ardhuser noted a relative absence of stem nesters, particularly Ceratina spp. (Apidae) and Hylaeus spp. (Colletidae) in remnant and restored prairies that had undergone recent burns.

Burning is an essential tool for prairie management because prairies are fire-adapted ecosystems. Regular burns maintain the diversity of plant species such as grasses and wildflowers. Fire also keeps out woody plants, thereby preserving the grassland ecosystem.

On the other hand, fires can be harmful for some animals, such as stem-nesting bees. These tiny bees lay their eggs in the stems of tall grasses. The larvae overwinter in dry stems, so if those stems burn, the young bees burn too! Kansas City Parks in conjunction with MDC wants to explore fire management techniques that will keep the grassland in tact while allowing stem nesters to persist. As part of this project, they have asked Avila Biology for assistance in monitoring stem nesters such as Ceratina spp. and Hylaeus spp.

During the summer of 2018, we confirmed the presence of Ceratina sp. in Jerry Smith East and Ceratina sp. and Hylaeus sp. in Jerry Smith West. In 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 in summer 2019 will help us determine whether these refugia are successful at providing habitat for this particular guild of wild bees. This would represent a novel contribution to prairie conservation practices, which traditionally have focused on managing for plant diversity without considering potential effects on important animal groups, such as 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.

Boscolo, Danilo, Paola Mandetta Tokumoto, Patricia Alves Ferreira, John Wesley Ribeiro, and Juliana Silveira dos Santos. 2017. Positive responses of flower visiting bees to landscape heterogeneity depend on functional connectivity levels. Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation. 15:18-24.

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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