[00:00:00] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] From the Oregon State University extension service, this is PolliNation, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host Dr. Andony Melathopoulos, Assistant Professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture.
[00:00:32] Trees play a very important role in pollinator health. You may recall from earlier episodes with Dr. Steven Frank or Dr. Gale Langellotto trees have these really critical roles in urban landscapes that are cooling the landscape down. They provide habitat homes for the bees, but also floral resources. The problem is it's really hard to study pollinator behavior in trees. The canopy is way up high in many of these trees, [00:01:00] and the visitation of some of these bees may be very early in the spring.
[00:01:03] That's why I was so excited to catch up with my next guest, Katherine Urban-Mead, she's a PhD student in the Danforth lab and McArt lab at the University of Cornell. She's got some really innovative ways of getting up into those canopies and she's finding some fascinating things that we previously didn't know about pollinators and trees. So let's head up, way up with Katherine Urban-Mead on PolliNation.
[00:01:40] Alright, I'm really pleased, I'm here in California way far away from both of our homes. I'm talking to Katherine Urban-Mead about your research on pollinators and trees. Welcome to PolliNation!
[00:01:50] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:01:50] Thank you so much. It's exciting to be here.
[00:01:52] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:01:52] Okay! We've had so many shows and we talk to people about pollinators [00:02:00] and whenever you think about plants, we're often talking about forbes. Sometimes we've had people talk about shrubs, I think I can only think of one episode where we ever talked about trees. Are trees important for pollinators? Or why should we think about trees?
[00:02:14] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:02:14] I think trees are really important for pollinators. I like to say I study the bees and the trees.
[00:02:24] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:24] Let me rephrase that. This episode is going be totally about how important trees are. Why are trees overlooked?
[00:02:33] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:02:33] Oh, well, I think a large part of it is because they're overlooking us. They're way high up there, it's hard to get into them, it's hard to see them. And so I think really naturally as creatures who are you know, four to six feet tall, we end up really just focusing on the beautiful plants at our feet and around us that we can see are buzzing with flowers. And so to take that extra energy, like physically, literally to get seventy feet in the [00:03:00] sky can be a big barrier - and human perspective bias is limited that way.
[00:03:05] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:05] Okay. I could totally get that and I often see this. You know, out in Oregon when the maple start blooming - on some low branches I can sort of see something going on but, I have no idea what's going on beyond that.
[00:03:21] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:03:21] Absolutely. I was supported by my advisors to dive into this project because we had some other data that kind of was telling us, "hey you guys should be looking up." And that had to do with kind of consistent trends that pollinators were healthier and more abundant and more diverse in agricultural areas where we were focused when there was forest nearby. And so that could be of course for a variety of reasons, nesting or you know, many things, but it could be forage resources that we're not thinking about. And also, anecdotal data that I've tracked down and particularly one cool study by [00:04:00] Laura Russo, who was a former post-doc, now professor in Brian Danforth's lab. And she was looking at the scopal loads, so the pollen that bees had collected on their legs, and they were all collected right on apple trees in the middle of apple bloom. And a large proportion of them had up to 30 or 40% of tree pollen, including wind pollinated tree pollen.
[00:04:21] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:21] Okay, let me get this straight. So, there's a forest nearby and there are apples, the bees are going from flower to flower, and you take the pollen off their back leg or off their belly or whatever. And you look at it and it's, 30 to 40% trees and some of those are not many trees that benefit from pollination.
[00:04:40] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:04:40] Exactly. And so I was looking at those data like, "wow, these are the farms nearby us." I had just learned to climb trees, one of the cool things about Cornell is that it actually offers a tree climbing course. And, I was my first fall in Ithaca and I was like, "well, shoot, I got to take this tree climbing course." [00:05:00] And I also had gone to forestry school and I cared a lot about forests and trees, I was interested in their ecology. So I was like, "well, you know, maybe sometime in the future this will help me do some research - who knows." And as I was climbing trees for class and looking through old data sets that Laura and Brian had in the lab I was realizing, wow, these places I'm climbing are going to be flowering - some of them in the spring.
[00:05:23] Laura has this evidence that they're collecting some of it. But that was in mid-May, we are in New York state where things bloom in May. And the trees are often blooming starting at the end of March, the beginning of April. And so I said to my advisors, "hey, if this project falls through the summer is still there I can do another project, but what if I take my first spring and just see what's going on up there?" And luckily they were really supportive, and "went out on a limb", so to speak to let me do that project. So I went, climbed up with my net a bunch to really see if that pollen collection we were seeing in the apple [00:06:00] orchards was also reflected earlier in the season before our crops were even blooming - where those bees that had come out using those resources?
[00:06:07] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:07] Oh, yeah. So I guess that that's one thing, there's all sorts of trees - in Oregon this summer we had a catalpa beautiful, massive trees with those massive flowers, but we have some summer bloomers. The bulk of our trees are deciduous trees are going to be producing pollen and or nectar before anything else.
[00:06:30] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:06:30] Yes, absolutely, huge abundance of pollen. There's a couple studies, and actually its mostly from the allergen literature that you get calculations of really the number of pollen grains that a wind pollinated tree can produce. And so they're usually pitched at like, "ah, this is terrifying, did you know that an oak tree can produce almost, you know, billions and billions of grains of pollen?" But it means that some of those curves are out there and you think, wow, we know that wild bees, [00:07:00] especially solitary bees are collecting as much pollen as they can to rear an offspring on. And we know that bees are pollen eaters, not just pollinators. Right? They're going out to eat that pollen
[00:07:10] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:07:10] Oh, I love that they sound mostly almost the same.
[00:07:15] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:07:15] It sounds almost the same. Yeah. Because they're going for nectar too, but they need that pollen for the protein, for the lipids, for their offspring.
[00:07:21] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:07:21] So those trees the wind pollinated still have to produce this pollen, and so the bees, if they can get it, they can use that and they can eat it even though the plant doesn't need the visit of the insect for pollination.
[00:07:34] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:07:34] Right. And I think they're producing that huge abundance for all the reasons we know, wind pollinated trees are looking to get maximal numbers of pollen grains floating out, and they're hoping for statistics - that their pollen grains are going to land on the correct host flower. But it means that they're producing huge amounts of small light pollen. We wouldn't necessarily think that bees would use those because they're not sticky, they might not be producing pollen kit and they might not be [00:08:00] adapted to pack well on the legs of bees. So a priori, we're not sure that they would be using those resources because they're not part of that traditional evolutionary dance of, you know, waiting for a pollinator.
[00:08:11] And so traits that are good for pollinators to be able to scramble through and collect them. But there's enough evidence in the literature that they are collecting them sometimes up to 100%. I just learned there’s even an oak specialist Andrena in Europe, the studies on Osmia that are about thermal tolerance and totally other questions, but they happen to note down what kinds of pollen they were finding and it would be up to 95% oak pollen. And so there's little scattered evidence throughout the literature. Yeah, that really they are going to use those, it just hasn't ever been studied because it's hard to get there.
[00:08:45] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:45] Can I just take us down a quick bunny trail? So the one thing that you said was pollen from trees doesn't pack well.
[00:08:56] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:08:56] It might not.
[00:08:59] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:59] Explain [00:09:00] what that's all about? If you can, I know that I'm putting you on the spot.
[00:09:03] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:09:03] Yeah, the mechanics of bees are different. So we know that bees are fuzzy vegetarian wasps, and part of the way that they're fuzzy is that they have branched hairs. And so each hair is like the branch of a tree with other little hairs off of it. And that makes a structure that's really good for pollen adhesion and to catch on. But different types of bees have different hair adaptations that mean that different types of pollen will pack well. So like, there are certain Andrena that are Oenothera specialists that have certain types of corbicula that "match" the morphology. They work well because they've had an association over millions of years to collect that kind of pollen.
[00:09:48] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:09:48] Okay, so the actual pollen maybe adapted to the bees.
[00:09:52] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:09:52] Right, right. There's going to be selection over time if those species are relying on each other that they can work. And so because trees don't rely on the [00:10:00] insects, one could imagine that those small grains that are really intended to fly through the air, you know, hundreds of miles maybe even to get onto another tree might not be the best for packing into a scopal load, unless you mix them. But it seems that many bees are able to - basically that is what we're finding. And not because I've studied the mechanics of it at all but I would love to. That would be a really cool follow-up study.
[00:10:22] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:22] Alright. Thank you for the diversion.
[00:10:24] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:10:24] No, no, it's really cool.
[00:10:25] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:25] Yeah. Let's take a quick break and then I want to come back and I want to ask you about specifically what you were doing in trees.
[00:10:32] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:10:32] Yeah, sounds good.
[00:10:34] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:34] Great.
[00:10:46] Okay. And we're back, you've explained both the difficulties of studying, the role of trees for bees, but also [00:11:00] the potential importance. Before the break you told us about climbing trees and taking a tree climbing class.
[00:11:07] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:11:07] Yeah.
[00:11:07]Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:07] So tell us a little bit about your design. What kind of trees and what context were you looking at them?
[00:11:15] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:11:15] Absolutely. So in the New York Finger Lakes region where Ithaca and Cornell University are, we've been working on a variety of small to large orchards in the area and many of those in our kind of patchy heterogeneous landscape is lot of deciduous second growth forest. And we have lots of small lots where an orchard will be maybe also near an old field meadow and also near an old woodlot. And so this kind of woodlot adjacent to orchard, is a really common situation. And I think that, I worked on a bunch of orchards when I was you know, in-between things and a couple of seasons and often I found that we think of in these agricultural systems, these woods are like homes where [00:12:00] the pests over winter.
[00:12:01] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:01] Oh, yeah.
[00:12:01] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:12:01] And so for me it was like really kind of upending and exciting to think, wow like plum cruciolio might be there, but also maybe that's where our pollinators are when the trees aren't blooming. Those forests, they're oak hickory they're heavily sugar and red maple, a lot of understory hop hornbeam, occasional linden, tulip-tree, and then there's also beech forest. So yeah, it's a beautiful area it's a great place to work. And orchards are of course, magical. So it's a great combination.
[00:12:33] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:33] Okay. So you found these woodlots that were adjacent to apple orchards.
[00:12:38] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:12:38] Yes.
[00:12:39] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:39] And then what did you do?
[00:12:40] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:12:40] Yeah, so we talked about tree climbing already, which was my inspiration is when I saw that really there were a lot of bees out in those trees. When you're climbing a tree, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort, and that's wonderful - but also I was finding that as a tree climber, even though I'm like reasonably small and reasonably nimble, you can't get to the very edge [00:13:00] of those trees. I was in blossoms, right? I was like, "oh, I'm sitting in this cluster of red maple blossoms, you know, fifty-five feet above the ground, fantastic." And then, you know, another twenty feet out from me on the very edge of the canopy I could see more bee activity, even more. And like it looked like more diversity, more of the bigger bees. And I was like, "oh, this is a subset of the community."
[00:13:20] So to climb a tree you use a giant slingshot, which is like a seven foot pole with a huge rubber band and put a weight in it attached to a slippery thin rope, and you crouch down on one knee, pull that giant rubber band, release the rope. It flies into the air and if your aim is good, which mine got better and better and better - for climbing you'd get it between a strong crotch of a tree where then once that weight lands on the other side, you tie on a heavy rope, reel it over, and then you can fix that and climb on that heavy rope.
[00:13:53] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:13:53] I'm so looking forward to reading the method section of your paper!
[00:13:55] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:13:55] It is so fun. It condenses down to like one line, right? Like, "we [00:14:00] set up a pulley system." Because I wanted replicated data where I didn't have to put in all of the effort of climbing each tree, I wanted continuous sampling in multiple locations. I used that same slingshot system instead to aim at the edge of the canopy where I saw those blooms that had the most activity. And launched that rope and then pulled up what ended up being a pulley system with a typical yellow, white and blue bowltrap, but I tied them onto the ropes.
[00:14:25] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:25] Okay. So these are these little traps that you put a little soapy water in.
[00:14:28] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:14:28] Exactly.
[00:14:29] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:29] I can just imagine on a pulley system you must be able to also bus like a really good party with like champagne glasses.
[00:14:37] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:14:37] You know, it's very funny my neck hurt by the end of my field season from craning to look up seventy feet in the sky and like guide the bowls down through all the branches without spilling anything.
[00:14:49] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:49] Holy smokes! That is amazing, that is so cool.
[00:14:50] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:14:50] I got pretty good at it. It was really fun and that meant I didn't need a safety buddy all the time. And so it was really cool I'd bring my extra length of rope out so that I could release the pulley [00:15:00] and reel it all the way down. So I'd tie on my extra length of rope and then pull down the bowl system, empty it out, collect my bees into Whirl-Paks in ethanol, put those in my bag and then reset the soapy water, reel them back up. For my first year, six sites, my second year eleven sites and this year, nine sites that each were five paired bowl systems in the forest and the canopy adjacent to orchards, which also had five bowl traps.
[00:15:26] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:26] So you had them in the trees, you had them down at the forest floor, and then you had them in the branches?
[00:15:35] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:15:35] So basically in each habitat, I kind of chose where we think the flowers are. Up in the canopy on average, sixty-five to seventy feet high, and these oak and hickory overstories near maple. And then also in the understory, because we have a lot of beautiful spring ephemerals. Oh,
[00:15:54] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:54] So you're like where are the bees? Are they in the flowers [00:16:00] in the woodlot? Are they on the flowers on the floor? Are they in the flowers of the apple orchard?
[00:16:05] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:16:05] Exactly. And I kept those out the whole time because they bloom at different times. And I want to see, you know, "oh, are they just flying through and getting caught in the bowls? Are they really showing up during bloom?" Because just being there doesn't mean they're eating them. And so first I was just looking at who is where and when. And that's been exciting.
[00:16:21] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:21] What did you find?
[00:16:24] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:16:24] So our apple system is super diverse. In the Finger Lakes region, we have at least eighty species of bees that visit apple orchards in the whole of New York state, at least one hundred and twenty.
[00:16:33] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:33] Okay.
[00:16:33] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:16:33] That's ten years of sampling from the Danforth lab. And so I was like, wow, I wonder how many of those are in the forest, and I've found at least forty to fifty-five species depending on my site in my forest canopies. And that's really exciting, almost all of them so far - they're not all identified to species cause I have a ton of Dialictus and a ton of male Andrena which are tricky to identify.
[00:16:57] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:57] Oh, we had a show with Sam Droge and I think that was [00:17:00] his most hated taxa.
[00:17:03] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:17:03] I know. I was like even Sam Droge doesn't like Dialictus. I actually kind of love them but they are hard to identify. So we're still kind of sorting through the exact species resolution, if at all. But it seems like a hundred percent of the genus level overlap in terms of community. But I'm finding sex ratio differences is one really strong thing that jumps out in terms of when species, or at least genera are using those two different habitats. And so I think that that's a really important thing to think about that there's a phenological difference.
[00:17:34] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:17:34] I would imagine the male bees would be in the orchard because that's where the nectar plants are and they wouldn't be in the forest canopy cause that's primarily just the pollen source. Is that what you found?
[00:17:46] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:17:46] So we found exactly the opposite! But it is really interesting because I think traditionally the view is that male bees rely on just some sugar from nectar to power their bodies through mating and they die. Right, [00:18:00] that's definitely what I always thought. But another factor that's playing in here is the temporal component because in early spring if we zoom in on the Andrena who are highly effective apple pollinators and often the whole species is only out for several weeks in early spring- the males emerge earlier and then the females emerge later. So there's enough overlap for mating, but the males are really active and out first. And so that also seems to overlap, the forest habitat is where they're active first and then the orchards later, so there's a phenological effect also.
[00:18:45] Yeah, but in terms of which resources they're using, so we found a lot of males and females active in the canopy and the next thing that I'm doing is looking at the pollen that they've eaten and figuring out exactly what the different preferences [00:19:00] are, so that's my next step. But just already, who had eaten a lot of pollen - both of them had really consumed a lot of pollen just by taking out those guts and looking at who had eaten a lot of pollen.
[00:19:12] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:19:12] I guess the central dogma of the PolliNation podcast is that the bees collect pollen and feed it to their young, they don't need it themselves.
[00:19:22] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:19:22] Right, there's definitely literature where we know that female bees need to eat pollen because they're continuously producing and laying eggs. And so physiologically - so that wasn't super surprising and I was really hopeful. Basically, I would never have thought of doing gut dissections, it was really kind of like, "whoa, I really want to know, not just that the bees are up here, not just the vertical stratification and occupancy, but I really want to know what they're eating and what they're doing up there and if they're foraging." And somebody who actually worked with something else, you know was like "dissect them, look what's in their guts." And it was like, "well, why not?"
[00:19:55] The females at least will eat a ton of pollen, they're laying eggs. And I started dissecting the males [00:20:00] too, and they just have tons of pollen in their guts, up to 50% of the males especially in the canopy and the orchard where you imagine they've been out for a little while. On the ground a lot of them didn't have pollen in their guts, but it would be pretty easy for them to just come out of their nests and just kind of fallen in a bowl. And so maybe they're relying on it more and maybe they're up there doing something else in the canopy looking for females and they end up eating a lot. I'm seeing diversity in the pollen types that they've eaten and a lot of pollen.
[00:20:30] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:30] Okay. And so I guess when it comes to conservation and thinking about these woodlots - bringing it back to the beginning people thought, "oh, these places are just where bees nest, they go out into the orchard to do all their forging." But now I guess there are these complications. These plants they seem to be providing food for both males and females in terms of pollen sources, but with the sexual difference the [00:21:00] males seem to really be using it. I guess we never think about males, we think, "oh the males they will just mate."
[00:21:08] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:21:08] Right? Exactly! Yeah I was like, "oh right of course we don't often think about, you know, the other sex in the bees." We are like looking at, "oh, we want these pollinators to be here and this is the habitat I see them on, these are the flowers." And that's all like, fantastic and has led to a lot of good work. Until I did this project and was seeing these stark sex differences and habitat usage and thought, "wow, if we want these full life cycles we're going to need to also think about the habitats that support the males predominantly." So my next step is going to be identifying all these pollen grains. We've been at this conference, hearing a lot of people talking about how awful that is but I'm ready to dive in!
[00:21:47] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:47] We are at a international pollinator conference, we are out in the courtyard. We've heard a lot of people talking about how pollen analysis is very tricky.
[00:21:57] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:21:57] Very tricky. And I had considered doing some of the really [00:22:00] exciting metabarcoding work that I've heard people talk about. And everyone really agrees that as truly exciting all of that work is, it really is limited by being present, absence, you only know if you have the pollen or not. And, I really want to know how much of different species they're relying on. And I want to be able to compare like, there's this much oak in the landscape and this is how much oak this bee collected and really look at whether their foraging is relative to the abundance and the proportion that's available to them to get a sense of relative preference. And I might follow this up with some manipulative work too.
[00:22:33] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:33] Some of you intrepid Oregon Bee Atlas people out there who are listening, I think we never think about it - we have a lot of oak in Oregon. I never think of it in terms of a pollen source. I think really great to sort of follow this up, but I guess there are other people listening to this episode and are thinking that, "I should plant more trees."
[00:22:53] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:22:53] Absolutely. Always plant more trees.
[00:22:56] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:56] I know it's very early in the game, you've got a lot of identification [00:23:00] to do but just based on some of the traps - do any of these tree species standout?
[00:23:07] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:23:07] Yeah. So, let's see. I think there's kind of two levels to my answer to that question. One is like, if you are a backyard person who's thinking, "I want to plant something in my yard now", versus someone who kind of has access to a woodlot or a forested area that they want to be managing for bees. And this is all very preliminary, but I think really any tree that blooms is going to do good work for the bees.
[00:23:28] We think of the flowering fruit tree as we think of locusts, we think of tulip trees, we think of linden and those kind our insect pollinated trees. And I just want people to also think of their wind pollinated trees as resources, especially when they think about like, where you might spray pesticides. I think all of those trees are going to be doing enormous work. Especially because I've seen bees nesting in branches of oak trees and other species. If there's a dead branch up in the canopy we know that a lot of species use.
[00:23:59] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:23:59] I always think of the [00:24:00] ones the ground.
[00:24:00] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:24:00] Exactly, me too. And then I was up in the top of a tree watching these shiny green bees zipping in and out of a branch at sixty-five feet high. And I was like, "oh gosh, they're nesting up here too." So, obviously you don't want a dead branch hanging over your house, but if you have habitat where that makes sense. And the other thing, like I was at the Forest Landowner Conference in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago and just had some really exciting conversations with people who are managing forests and doing work with community-based forestry and small woodlot owners, for bird management.
[00:24:30] And it just seemed that already, although these are not official recommendations anywhere - but based on my intuition from this work and talking with other people doing forest bee research, that a lot of the recommendations out there for conserving wildlife and forests already are really similar to things that we'd want for bees. Which include mimicking natural disturbances, conserving coarse woody debris, having snags in the forest - meaning standing dead wood that have a lot of beetle burrows and places that are good nesting.
[00:25:00] [00:25:00] Canopy diversity is really important and so a lot of ecological management is trying to have uneven aged forestry. So we're thinking trees of lots of different ages and sizes, which shelter wood and age selection, forestry practices really highlight. And then you get these kinds of you know open areas which traditionally in forests is where we only thought bees were. Where in a recently harvested patch that had Rubus and your other sun patches - and that's absolutely true.
[00:25:28] But also mid-story and older species are going to have these blooms that we've traditionally not thought of as bee resources, they're going to have nesting resources also. And so I think that actually like it would just be really cool to add the bee component into a lot of the ecological forestry recommendations that already exist. And to get more people who are excited about that kind of conservation work for bees, but maybe aren't "bird people" or maybe aren't people who are thinking about grouse or whatever other forestry or wildlife projects actually thinking [00:26:00] about doing good sustainable forestry - that is going to up the diversity of our community and it will spill over into other habitats of course.
[00:26:08] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:08] Even if they're under the illusion that they're building bird habitat, it's just like, "great, awesome!"
[00:26:12] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:26:12] Yes, totally. I was like, "gosh, we should just sync these!" There's going to be slight variation, right? But now especially I'm finding you know even pine pollen in the guts of these bees. Even these thickets that are recommended for birds of having different densities - it all just seems like it would dovetail really nicely.
[00:26:32] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:32] Fantastic research. This is really great.
[00:26:34] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:26:34] Thank you.
[00:26:36] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:36] Let's take a break. We've got the three questions, "the dreaded three questions", they will be okay.
[00:26:54] And we're back. Okay so, three questions. Every guest, nobody gets away without it - first question is, [00:27:00] do you have a book that you'd like to recommend?
[00:27:02] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:27:02] All right. This one was tricky for me, and then I realized that I have such an exciting book that I want everyone to read! I am in Brian Danforth lab at Cornell University and so I've gotten a sneak peek at his upcoming book on solitary bees. And I can just tell you that that book is packed full of the coolest stories and like the most amazing kind of compilation of solitary bee life cycles. Like, habitats and evolutionary theories, and why we think they do what they do. It's a really, really great book full of knowledge. It's kind of geared towards upper level biology students. So it's good for classes, it's good for a researcher who knows science, but as psyched to learn more about solitary bees
[00:27:49] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:27:49] There are some good keys out there, but just basic life history - and we do have Michener's book on the social bees it's a great book.
[00:27:57] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:27:57] Oh gosh, yes. Fantastic.
[00:27:57] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:27:57] But there really isn't [00:28:00] a great resource to sort of pull together all of those varied life histories and weird kind of things in one place. This is going to be fantastic.
[00:28:12] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:28:12] It's going to be great. I just ran a workshop with undergrads a couple of weeks ago, and brought everybody some of the little focal awesome stories that Brian pulls out in little boxes in the book. Like these bees that nest in termite nests and bees that nests are submerged in ponds half the year and bees that forage by the light of the moon. And they were just like, "what do you mean bees that nest in rock walls only" and you know, and they were like, "what do you mean this can't be a bee?" A lot of them are stories I'd never heard before.
[00:28:39] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:28:39] You were teaching a kid's class on?
[00:28:41] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:28:41] They were actually undergrads in a field ecology course. They asked me to come do a couple day bee workshop. That was really, really fun.
[00:28:47] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:28:47] Well this is really great! The way that we met is you just sent me an email and said, that you liked the show that you listened to the show, but also you let me know that this book [00:29:00] is going to be published in September.
[00:29:02] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:02] Yeah.
[00:29:03] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:03] And thanks to you, we're going to have Dr. Danforth on the show and talk about the book around its release.
[00:29:11] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:11] Fantastic. Oh, that's so good to hear.
[00:29:13] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:13] I'm really excited about that. I got to see the table of contents and one of the chapters and it looks amazing!
[00:29:20] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:20] I think it's gonna live up to expectations. I'm glad that the listeners will get to hear all about it.
[00:29:24] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:24] Fantastic. Okay so the next question I have for you is, do you have a go to tool for this slightly dangerous sounding work that you do?
[00:29:35] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:35] A little dangerous? What do you mean? I guess I'm going to have to just go with my giant slingshot - it's called a Big Shot.
[00:29:43] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:43] That's the brand name, Big Shot?
[00:29:47] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:47] Yeah I guess I shouldn't be like advertising, but yeah, it's called the Big Shot.
[00:29:53] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:53] Amazon will do is demographic and they'll be like "they all like bees - I don't get what's going on."
[00:29:58] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:29:58] Well canopy bees you know, it's time to [00:30:00] be up there.
[00:30:03] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:03] So how big is this thing?
[00:30:05] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:30:05] It's seven feet long. So it's like a long pole, it's a huge slingshot. Yeah, so I like lodged the base of it in the ground.
[00:30:14] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:14] So you're not holding, it's kinda like anchored and you're pulling it back.
[00:30:17] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:30:17] Exactly. You're like kneeling on the ground with this giant pole, like kind of clenched between your arms and your legs. You hold it with your whole body and like pull back a giant rubber band to launch the weight. Tree climbers all know this they're like, "yeah that's how we do this!"
[00:30:31] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:31] So you got a rope with a weight on it or something, and then you launch it. Is it easy to aim?
[00:30:38] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:30:38] Not at first. No. I got very pleased with myself - I could usually get like the specific branch crotch at whatever height I was aiming for within one or two tries. By the time I had it set I had eleven sites with five each - so I did a lot of them. And I did a lot of extra lines too my first year cause I was also [00:31:00] climbing in a bunch of places that I hadn't actually set my replicated bowls. So I set a ton of lines for this projet.
[00:31:06] Long days - I would come home and feel worried that I'd thrown my shoulder out. And so you're aiming and you know it's like anything, I found it easier cause I like athletic activity but don't think of myself as a hand eye coordination kind of person. But I think because it's kind of a full body project, you can really guide the like very long pole. Anyway, that might be more detailed than you want to know.
[00:31:26] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:31:26] No, I actually want to know more! So, this thing goes over and then you've got to pulley up...
[00:31:31] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:31:31] You go around to the other side and take the weight off, it detaches on the other end. And then you have some special knots you have attached to your heavy duty safe for human climbing. Cause this one's very, very slippery so that it doesn't get tangled up in the branches also, if you misfire you always take the weight off and pull it back without the weight on it, because it can pull that weight back up - it's almost certainly going to get tangled up in those twigs. Anyway those are just details of logistics. Yeah, so you take that weight off and then you tie your heavy, heavy rope on [00:32:00] and then reel it up and then tie that one very, very safely with whatever system you're using, depending on different climbing strategies.
[00:32:06] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:06] Do you have like a cafeteria tray? What do the pan traps sit on?
[00:32:10] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:32:10] So the way I did it was I actually used deeper cups than most people did. They're really just solo cups and spray painted them based on Sam Droge's recommendations but with a bigger cup. And then I punched holes at the top of each one and tied paracord - it's like a thin rope, and so I attached each one at a different level. So that they're hanging vertically one below the other and I randomized the order so that like the white, blue and, yellow were in different orders.
[00:32:42] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:42] Did you want to redo that or something or?
[00:32:44] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:32:44] Oh I just realized that I was using my hands to describe it and I realized I might not have actually been using descriptive words that would make sense legibly.
[00:32:51] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:51] Wow, you're made for radio.
[00:32:55] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:32:55] I was like, "oh, maybe I'm not making that clear."
[00:32:57] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:57] I totally got that. Okay so these get [00:33:00] hold up there but then you like, people run these traps usually for like?
[00:33:03] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:33:03] I left them out for about a week, which is a little bit longer. It was just the fastest I could get back out to all of my sites again. And actually this year I ran one of my sites daily - partially to see, obviously that's not replicated, but just to see if I was getting strikingly different numbers with a daily sampling versus collecting every week. And it looks like it's pretty much the same based on that anecdotal collection. I also did that cause I was curious about a daily resolution of sampling which was really cool. It was a farm near where I live so it's easy for me to pop up there every day.
[00:33:37] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:33:37] That has gotta be the most interesting tool that we've had on the show.
[00:33:41] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:33:41] That's high praise, there have been some pretty awesome ones.
[00:33:46] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:33:46] But I have to say, nobody has the Big Shot.
[00:33:49] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:33:49] It's a great tool. Sometimes I just call up a friend and I'm like, "want to go climbing just so we can go set up some lines?" So I highly recommend it!
[00:33:57] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:33:57] Fantastic, okay. And we got some pretty big trees in [00:34:00] Oregon.
[00:34:00] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:34:00] Yes. Gosh, I know. Being out on the West Coast I’m like, who am I to say I have big trees? Like these people know big trees.
[00:34:09] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:34:09] Last question is, there's a lot of little bees you've probably seen, does anyone sort of stick out in your mind? That you really love that bee?
[00:34:18] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:34:18] Yeah, I really love watching the Nomada while I'm out, which is funny cause I'm out in the forest all the time. I've never seen one find an Andrena nest, but I'll keep watching. Yeah, and I think I just really love the green bees, generally because I've started really watching them. And I have an undergrad who's really excited about the evolution of iridescence. So I've been paying way more attention to them than I ever used to. I think that they're very beautiful. Yeah, I love a million bees. I love Nomia. But in my system, I think I'd have to stick with Andrena as a genus - but as a specific pairing I really loved watching one Nomada chasing this Agapostemon [00:35:00] down its nest last summer. So that was a highlight.
[00:35:03] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:03] Oh, really?
[00:35:04] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:35:04] So she didn't actually chase them, sorry. It waited until she left, which is more accurate to what we actually think. But you know, it was a whole like, you know, waiting for her to leave. And it was one of my growers called me and was like, "KASS!" and I was like, "what's wrong? What happened?" He's like, "there is a whole Agapostemon aggregation in my front yard, and there's green, red bees all over them" and I was like, "oh my God." So we went out and watched that for a while. That was a really great time.
[00:35:28] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:28] A grower calling you up with the actual genus name.
[00:35:33] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:35:33] He didn't know the genus name, but we figured it out quickly. I was like, "does it have a black abdomen or a green abdomen?" I was like, "if it's got this stripe" and I was correct when I got out there. That's gotta be an Agapostemon. Yeah that as fun! Yeah I mean, you end up seeing the coolest things when you're out there, especially in a canopy space where people hardly ever are. I feel really honored to watch them up there doing their funny stuff.
[00:35:56] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:56] Well, fantastic. Thanks for taking us up into the trees!
[00:35:59] Kass Urban-Mead: [00:35:59] Thanks so much. [00:36:00] Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.
[00:36:12] Andony Melathopoulos: [00:36:12] Thanks so much for listening! Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode.
[00:36:33] You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities - just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating. it makes us more visible, which helps others discover PolliNation. See you next week! [00:37:00]
How important are trees to the health of bees? In many cases we don’t know because trees are a lot bigger than us. That doesn’t stop our next guest from scaling into the canopy for her research. This week we feature PhD Candidate Kass Urban-Mead.
Kass is working on PhD in Entomology at Cornell University. She is interested in wild bee biology, conservation, and sustainable agriculture. She thinks wild bees are top-notch because not only are they endlessly fascinating critters biologically, but an accessible entry point for connecting with people of all backgrounds about our interconnected global ecological web. Her research focuses on wild bee populations in forests and orchards, and how bees differently use these habitats over time and space. Specifically, she explores the often overlooked canopy resources and vertical habitat spatial use. Kass spends a lot of time on local farms, and ultimately hopes her research will contribute to forest management recommendations to support important agricultural pollinators. When not in the woods, Kass is singing shape note or coaching kids’ roller derby. Long term, she is interested in a career at the intersection of outreach, extension, and policy.
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Kass’ Book Recommendation: Danforth, B.N., R.L. Minckley, J.L. Neff (2019). The Solitary Bees: Biology, Evolution, Conservation. Princeton University Press
Kass’ Go to Tool: Big Shot Sligshot (video demonstration)
Kass’ Favorite Bee: Andrena (University of Minnesota video) and Nomada