227 - Lindsay- Matching plants to bees


Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] There are many schemes to improve pollinator habitat for bees. I think back to an episode that we had with Mace Vaughn from the Xerces Society, who pointed out that there are numerous federal programs that come together under the Farm Bill legislation that are dedicated to improving pollinator habitat on working lands.

Today's guest puts a twist on this question. What bees are we actually trying to create habitat for? Shianne Lindsay is a Master student at the University of Nebraska in the Department of Entomology. I ran into her at the Pacific Northwest Mixer at the Entomological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, in November. In our conversations I learned about her fascinating research of being more deliberate on tailoring habitat to suit specific bees. A key consideration in her work is [00:01:00] how focusing on habitat for honey bees and that may have indirect benefits to wild and native bees.

So without further ado, let's head to the convention center in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. For a conversation with Shianne Lindsay this week on pollination.

Welcome to pollination Shianne. We're here in beautiful British Columbia overlooking the water . Yes. And we're both far from home.

Shianne Lindsay: Yes. Yes, we are for sure. You're from Nebraska? Yes. I am a current master's student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I am in the Bee Lab and I study wild bees and honey bees and wet flowers.

They like to go to,

Andony Melathopoulos: and I am I, we've talked about this before on the show, that, there's all sorts of concern about loss of pollinator habitat. Yes. And, habitat for both managed and native bees. Can you tell us a little bit about the

Shianne Lindsay: situation in Nebraska? Yeah. So we are. Like I said, in the university of Nebraska Lincoln, which is located within this tall grass [00:02:00] prairie ecosystem.

And historically, the state of Nebraska, I was a very widely diverse prairie system ranging from tall grass to short grass, and we also have the sand hills region. But if you look at what the actual eco types are of the state and what the land. Utilization is for these areas. We've had a 92% change from native prairie habitat to farming ecosystems and working lands.

Whether it's for range lands for cattle or row crop agriculture. . So this massive land use change is raised a lot of questions for ecosystems for all all groups. But I am specifically interested. The pollinators and how they have responded to this issue. Okay. That's

Andony Melathopoulos: great. So there, there was, I, we we had a a person from World Wildlife Fund that had a bit northern great Plains project and just, just, for most of us to think of grasslands, we think of like grass, but there's all sorts of Forbes Yes.

Growing in there. And so there was some. Arthropod community. Bees were bees and butterflies were a part [00:03:00] of . And so this has been transformed. Now it's it's in these little remnants and what you have is, a soy corn landscape. Yep. And that must raise the question of is there something you can do to mitigate?

And there, I, we've had Mace Vaughn on a previous episode talking about, a host of Farm Bill Pro based programs through nrcs, but there's also private initiative. . Okay, so this is the context of your research. This is the world we live in. We live. Intensive ag trying to do restoration.

So what was a specific problem that you are structuring your Master's thesis

Shianne Lindsay: around? Yeah like I said, we've had this massive land use change. We're studying specifically the state of Nebraska, but this is definitely a widespread issue across the Great Plains and even across the US.

And what we're left with is with this land use conversion is these little remnant spots that are the leftover prairie or areas that have been converted back. Some sort of wildflower habitat whether it be specifically for pollinators or for other uses. There are the seed mix programs such as the NRCS and the C R P.

[00:04:00] And these aren't necessarily intended for pollinators. They have pollinator value. But what landowners are using them for is pheasant habitat and fire breaks between their properties. And so they put, they're putting these native Forbes and bunch grasses into them to restore the pollinator habitat back to.

Or make the best of it that we can, and what I wanna know is how we can further improve these scraps that we have left and how we can make them basically maximizing the land use that we currently have. There's no way we're going to completely restore all of the Midwest back to Native Prairie.

We're not gonna stop big Ag. That's not something that's gonna happen. But what we can do is make the best of these small parcels. And so what I am doing is I'm trying to address the question of how can we further improve these lands for pollinators by addressing all of the native. Bees that we do have here.

The United States is home to 4,000 species. In Nebraska, we have about four to 500 [00:05:00] and they are all the specialties. There are ground nesters and soil stem nesters, and there's parasitic bees. There are social, solitary and everything in between, and most of them also have very specific habitat and foraging needs.

And these might not necessarily be met by these general usage. Habitats. So by looking at the, like a


Andony Melathopoulos: crop Yeah. You put

Shianne Lindsay: a bunch of clover in. Yeah. Yeah. And that it's, yeah, sure. It's food. Just because you put flowers there, is it actually doing what you're intending it to? The intention might be there, but we wanna know if it's actually working, if we're actually doing the right thing to save the bees in quotes.

In addition, here in the Midwest, this is a high usage area for. And a lot of these farmers are additionally putting these habitats in as forage for their honey bees to also yield increase pollination services on their crops. So we have these really small habitats within agricultural [00:06:00] systems with honey bees and we're just expecting it to be okay, so how can we further improve these habitats but also mitigate competition, which is a massive issue that a bunch of people are trying to get at.

don't fully understand it, but I wanna know how we can possibly use the landscape design.

Andony Melathopoulos: So the concern is that you have you build this pretty pricey pollinator habitat. , and then there's a bunch of honeybee colonies there. And then, a good chunk of the nectar poly being produced there is goes into the honeybee where there may not be sufficient resources, to support some of.

The wild unmanaged species. Okay. So tell us how you've tried to address this problem.

Shianne Lindsay: Yeah, so what we are specifically looking at is the the pollinator preference. So what the, both the managed bees and the wild bees are using. How frequently what times of the year? So we've been sampling during the early, mid, and late season which are different peaks in the summer when we expect the the blooms to be at their peak.

Cuz there's constant change between what flowers are in. So if we go in the early, mid, and late summer this also [00:07:00] will give us different species compositions of the bees as well. And what we're doing is we're collecting the bees specifically off of the flowers. We find them foraging on.

And collecting that data, bringing them back, identifying the bees to species. And what we've found so far is there a lot of these seed mixes have a very high composition of things like alfalfa and vetch sweet clovers, other types of ground clovers. They're very high in legumes.

And. What we've found though is that when there are other native species present within these mixes, the wild bees would rather utilize those than the things that are of higher abundance. For example, some things like cup plant and compass plant are very uncommon in these seed mixes, but they are highly sought after by the pollinators, and that's where we find the most bees Yeah.

Are on flowers like that. Versus honey bees would rather use the alfalfas and ves and clovers. So when we have these these preferred plants by the honey bees and these preferred plants by the wild bees [00:08:00] within the system, and there is enough resources still for these native pollinators, there's not as much foraging overlap occurring.

And so there's some seed mix programs that are used like utilizing this habitat design of placing. P honeybee, preferred Forage next to the Wild Be Preferred Forage. And if we can continuously manage the landscape and be land stewards to this area we can basically resource partition who is using what and also reducing this crossover.

And this is Oh, I see. Yeah. This is beneficial not only because you're allowing everybody to get the food that they. But honeybees also transmit many pathogens, and we don't fully understand how the pathogens get from honeybee to wild bee, but we do know that it happens. But the idea is if we separate who is using what we can possibly keep our bees healthier too, so they're not getting sick and transmitting things from one to the other.

Let me get

Andony Melathopoulos: this right. This is a little bit complicated, but so [00:09:00] you, if you had. You notice these preferences . And so one of the implications might be that if you planted a block of sweet clover , best plant for bees, honey bees on the planet, . They do love it. You plant a big block of this that the honey bees may not go and visit flowers that have, might be of a little less preference to them. And we're that allows the nectar pollen to build up on those flowers. So that the wild. So you're paradoxically, it's strange, it's like to help native bees, I'm planting exotic legumes.

Shianne Lindsay: Yes. So this raises a lot of questions and concerns for this area, but these plants are already highly abundant within this landscape because they love these stress systems. That are present within agricultural lands. So this also comes down to the management question of. We can't really get rid of them.

We have to make the best of what we have, but we can take care of it in a way that makes it less of an issue. And you basically gotta pick your poison. Would you [00:10:00] rather have the bees constantly competing and continuing species declines due to lack of resources? Or would we rather just bite the bullet?

Have, allow these maybe not necessarily exotic or not necessarily invasive species. Not native species either. Just exist and be the forage for the also non-native honey bee to allow everybody to get what they need. I

Andony Melathopoulos: suppose this also, raises the issue of the differential price that, a lot of these legum seeds are cheap.

Yes. And so a landowner can come in who may not may have a mild commitment to bees. Really. Interested in pheasants. , and this would be a great for her or him to plant. . And then you may have somebody who's just really dedicated and wants to do high tier, stewardship.

And, you they may plant something else. And eventually over this patchwork of degraded land, you'd, the honeybees will find these nice, or the beekeepers probably will find these nice plots of. More cheaper to plant mixes and then native B populations will [00:11:00] colonize and build up on these areas where

Shianne Lindsay: these other, yes.

So that is another component to my research actually. I don't think we had discussed that previously, but with this preference analysis that I'm doing of the what the bees are using and how frequently and how often I am additionally looking at what the. Per certain amount of seed is for these, and I'm trying to see if we can possibly alter the ratios of some of these these Forbes.

That so that way we are maybe cutting down the amount that we're spending on these less preferred. Plants that are already highly abundant because they're cheap, they're fillers. , in exchange for just increasing the pollinator value just a little bit by putting these more preferred plants in.

Oh, because

Andony Melathopoulos: you now, because you've got this big data set you've gone through meticulously seen which bee goes to which flower. , you now can go back to those mixes and say even. wild bees. , I can get the maximum number of genera with these three plants. And these ones here are super spendy.

And rarely see that many [00:12:00] bees on it. So maybe we can punt that one out. .

Shianne Lindsay: Yeah. So we're we're going through and meticulously selecting which are the highest benefit plants and how we can increase their abundance without increasing the cost too much because Yeah, like you said, the accessibility to these seed.

Per acre can be a little outrageous and people don't necessarily want to to spend that if they're not. A lot of people don't even know or really care about the wild bees. Like you said, these private landowners, a lot of them are looking for that pheasant habitat. If we can just increase the value of those and maximize what we have there, get the most bang for your buck type scenario that would be even just a huge benefit to the.

Andony Melathopoulos: Where are you in your research? What what stage are you at?

Shianne Lindsay: I am almost done. So I've collected all of my data. I am in the process of analyzing it. I'm running my statistics and I'm in the process of writing. This upcoming spring, I will be working on getting my publications out and looking to graduate either this spring or this summer.

Andony Melathopoulos: Fantastic. Project. I'm really glad to hear, but I'm sure our listeners up in the Pacific Northwest [00:13:00] are excited cuz I'm sure this has although it's a very Nebraska focused project the principle may have application across the continent.

Shianne Lindsay: Yes. Yeah. And the species that I'm studying are gonna be more specific to my area.

But the overall idea, I was just talking to some other students this morning, that how great would it be if a project like this was done on a national scale because the flowers on the beast composition is gonna vary depending on. But this overall idea is still applicable to the entire country, fantastic.

Andony Melathopoulos: Thanks for taking a little break in a very busy Technological Society of America

Shianne Lindsay: session. Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having me.

It is often assumed that a single blend of flowers could serve all bees equally. In this episode we hear about some new research that considers how it might make sense to tailor resource availability in restored habitats to bee preference in an area.

Shianne Lindsay is a current master's student at the University of Nebraska in the department of entomology. She studies habitat restorations via pollinator seed mixes, and the plant-pollinator networks within them. By understanding bee foraging preference for both managed and wild bees, she hopes to better understand the impact that these restorations have on pollinator communities, as well as address other conservation concerns such as foraging competition.

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