90 Dr. Casey Delphia – The Bees of Montana


Speaker 1: 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. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. The bees are a notoriously diverse group and it's really hard to get a handle on how many species you have in an area the size of a state. I had heard there was some amazing work going on in Montana to come up with an inventory of the bees in Montana starting with the bumblebees, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to go across the Rockies and reach out to Dr. Casey Delphia. Now, Dr. Delphia is a research scientist at Montana State University and she's the associate curator of the poidia, the bees, in the Montana entomology collection. In this episode, Dr. Delphia is going to give us a snapshot of the exciting work that's going on with her and her colleagues at Montana State University to come up with the Bees of Montana, but also some real key tips that I think volunteers here at the Oregon Bee Atlas can draw from on how to go about systematically in this multi-year effort to be able to catalog the bees of an entire state. Hope you enjoy the episode. Okay, Casey, welcome to Pollination.

Thank you so much for having me. Now, Montana is a pretty geographically diverse state and I imagine it must be a place with a lot of different bee communities to start with. Can you take us across the state and describe some of the places where you would expect to find some of the coolest native bees in Montana?

Speaker 2: Sure, I can. First, I just want to say, that I don't know if you've ever been here, but Montana is a very, very beautiful breathtaking state to be in. I've lived here for almost 11 years now and I've loved just about every single minute of it.

It's pretty spectacular and it's a really fun and exciting place to be getting to do research on wild bees. It was kind of nice thinking about Montana and how it sits within the U.S. so I was looking up a few fun facts about Montana and we have about 1.07 million people here. It's the fourth largest state, but what's really cool is it's the 48th most densely populated state.

So there are only two states with more sparse populations than us and that is Alaska and Wyoming. Okay. So it's pretty amazing. I think I read that there was something like only seven people per square mile for every square mile of land in Montana. Oh, wow. Okay. There are lots of areas to explore.

Speaker 1: Well, so there could be a lot of cool bees, but nobody would know about them. Exactly.

Speaker 2: Exactly. That's the thing. I mean, most of Montana is extremely difficult to access and we have a lot of wilderness, a lot of grizzly bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. There's a lot of hiking in remote areas, long distances because these places are not accessible by car. So, I mean, you really feel like you are in a wild place when you are here and that you could die any minute. As long as you're properly prepared, you're good. But you definitely feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.

Speaker 1: And the nowhere probably spans from the alpine of the Rockies all the way down into the plains. Yes.

Speaker 2: Yes. So, the eastern two-thirds of the state is the western edge of the northern Great Plains. So that's low elevation, dry plains generally. And then the western third of the state from north to south is crossed across by the continental divide. So, we get our boreal and our alpine zones there. I don't know what people picture when they think of Montana, but we have some really, really unique habitats that I just want to point out.

So, my favorite places to go to collect bees. The first one is the Pryor Mountains, which are located in south-central Montana. And they're part of the Bighorn Basin. And what's really neat about it is it's a true desert ecosystem. There are less than five inches of rain annually. It looks like the red deserts of Utah.

You would never realize that you are in Montana. And there's a lot of really, really cool plant species there because it sort of serves as like the northern refuge for many southern desert species that get up into there. So, it's just really unique plants. One I saw this summer was Woolly Princess Plume, which is endemic to the area, as well as North Central Wyoming, and Perdida, the little mining bee, loves this plant. And then another bee that we captured at a bioblitz that we did in 2012 was Macrodora a puntyii, which to my knowledge, is the only record of that bee that currently exists, that species is from Colorado. It's called the Sandstone Mining Bee, and it's a specialist in cactus. You would not think that you'd find that in Montana. So, there's just so much here to discover.

Speaker 1: One more time. What was the name of the mountain range? It was the Pryor Mountains. Okay. Pryor Mountains. Thanks so much. Okay. So, that's one of the cool places. What are some other places in Montana you'd like to go to?

Speaker 2: Another awesome place is the Centennial Valley, which is in Southwestern Montana. And it's basically along the Idaho-Montana border. You've got the Centennial Sandhills Preserve that's located in Centennial Valley, as well as the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge. And again, it's just a really neat area because it's got these really rare dynamic sandhills that are always changing. It's desert-like. Again, you would not think that you're in Montana. And so, in that way, it's very similar to the Pryor Mountains as far as the climate goes. And again, rare plant communities reach their northernmost range in this area. So, this summer, I went there and we actually got a new record, a new anthophora species that has not been recorded from the state, anthophora albeta, which was just this awesome bee because it was so distinct.

It's got the middle legs or almost three times as long as the front legs and the hind legs. Oh my goodness. So, it's just a really unusual-looking bee. And it's got these enlarged hind legs. And the forelegs have these black and white, striking hairs on them.

And the whole body has these oppressed silver hairs, which sort of remind me of some of the Cuttos parasitic bees. And it was just really, really neat. It's so fun because every time you go out, it's almost like you find a lot of different things. You can find something you've never seen before. And you usually find a new state record because so little work has been done within the state.

Speaker 1: Are there any other spots that you wanted to highlight?

Speaker 2: Two more. One is an oak forest that we have here in Montana. It's located in the eastern corner of Montana. It's part of the Black Hills of South Dakota. And the plants include things like burr oak and green ash. And basically, when you are there, I have not personally been there, but I have bees from there that were collected for me. I'm told that you feel like you're in a deciduous forest on the east coast.

Speaker 1: Oh, is this remarkable? Not what you would expect from Montana.

Speaker 2: No, not at all. And the last one I think you'll like because this is similar to Oregon. This is Ross Creek Cedars, which is located in northwestern Montana. It is near Libby, Montana, part of the Kootenai National Forest. It is a temperate rainforest similar to the Pacific Northwest. So we have these huge Western Red Cedars there, hemlocks. Again, like no place I've ever been. I just went there for the first time about three years ago and I was just blown away. Then I collected bees there, but I haven't identified them yet.

Speaker 1: So sounds like a real task. If somebody was going to come up with, say, an Atlas of Montana, which you are about to embark on, sounds like you've got two things happening.

The one is not a lot of records, so a lot of potential for discovery, but also a large area to cover. Yeah. Now, as you embark on this native bee Atlas, this comes after finishing a bumblebee Atlas for Montana. Can you tell us a little bit about the Bumblebee Project that sort of kicked this off and what were some of the major findings?

Speaker 2: Sure, I'd be happy to. I want to say first, too, that the Bumblebee Project is near and dear to my heart. I really thoroughly enjoyed working on that project. So there are several of us here who thought it would be great at some point in time to work on the Bumblebees of Montana.

And of course, as most people know, you know, funding and time only allow for so many things. But in 2015, like Ivy, who is the curator of the Montana Entomology Collection here, he received some funding from the Montana Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant. And that was to look at insects that are associated with huckleberries, pests, and pollinators. And for that project, we had a really amazing student, Amelia Dolan.

This was going to be her master's project. The first summer that she was working on the huckleberries, she caught a lot of bumblebees pollinating huckleberries or visiting the flowers of huckleberries. And she became enamored, like most do, with bumblebees. And so we all kind of came up with the idea that as another chapter of her thesis, she would create an inventory of the bumblebees in Montana.

And she was an extremely highly motivated student who worked her butt off. So for that project, it kind of had two phases. So the goal was to create a statewide inventory and then also provide county-level distribution data. So the first phase of that project was just to document all the existing specimens.

So everything that we had here in the Montana Entomology Collection, anyone here with current or past research projects, personal bee collections, myself as well as others here I know, collect bees in their spare time and on vacations and anywhere they go. So we use those as a starting point. And then any databases that had Montana records in them, people were gracious enough to share those with us. And then from those databases, anything that looked suspect, as far as the species identification went, we requested loans in order to go through and verify those records. And so after we finished that in about April 2015, we mapped out, and looked at all those species by county.

And then we use those data in order to target some collecting that we did that summer in 2015. So for example, I mean we had four counties that had zero bumblebees documented from them. And just with that targeted collecting, which ended up being pretty much most of the Eastern half of the state, it was really neat. There's a map in the publication that shows all of the localities from which bumblebees were collected. And you can see a clear pattern of where the roads are and the fact that mostly the Western half of the state has been collected. So this is sort of, I guess, what's called convenience collecting. You're driving along, you stop, you jump out of your car, you collect some bumblebees, you jump back in your car. So we found the counties with the fewest records and we just targeted those counties that summer. So for example, in one county that had zero records in 2015, targeted collecting for one summer, we got 17 species from that county. Yeah.

Speaker 1: Okay. Wow. That's a lot for bumblebees.

Speaker 2: That was a lot. So when all was said and done, we had over 12,000 vouchered and database records, but we looked at over 15,000 different specimens. We documented 28 species in the state, which was really exciting.

I think we have the most of any state, which is kind of cool. Four more species might be here. And we think they're here. We just haven't collected enough to detect them yet.

And some other cool things. There were three, what we call Eastern Western species pairs. There were some Patrick in Montana. So for example, there's a species that is thought to occur in the Eastern half of the US. And that species is thought to be replaced in the Western half of the US by another species.

But in Montana, we get both species overlapping. So when we started, when we started trying to do identifications, of course, we were using Jonathan Koch's Jonathan Koch, that identification guide to the bees of the Western US, which we thought made sense to use. But then we're getting all these species that we had to key out in the guide to the bumblebees of Eastern North America.

So that was kind of crazy. So ultimately we ended up using the bumblebees of North America. But of course that comprises 45 different species that you have to wade through. So basically there was no comprehensive key that included all of the bumblebee species that occur in Montana. Part of this is because, in the bumblebees of North America, there are some species that have been lumped, that were two species that have been lumped now into one species and CNA and genetic work has shown that there are actually two species.

So there was just no key for which you could get to all the species that occur in Montana that was out there. And so one of the goals we had was to provide a local illustrated tax synomic key to the bumblebee that occurs in Montana. And then in addition to that, we did county-level distribution data for all of Montana's 56 counties. You can find this information on our Montana entomology collection website.

There are interactive maps where you click on a particular bumblebee species and a map pops up and it is auto-populated with all the most recent records which we are continuing to add to. So it's really, really neat.

Speaker 1: Oh, fantastic. Well, we will definitely be linking that in the show notes so that people can take a look. I think that's something that everybody would like as well for the Pacific Northwest. So I guess a couple of things came out of that. The first thing is being where you are on that side of the rock, he's having eastern species and, you know, I guess there's the first question is counties with no records.

And when you start off on something of this and you only rely on historical records, you may get a distorted picture of what's going on. So it's really great that you did this targeting sampling to sort of create those range maps. But the other one is this other issue of really having assumptions about which species are there and then discovering eastern species, which I'm really kind of curious about how if the two things go together, it's just that people hadn't really done enough collecting in Montana to know that eastern species were there or if they were a product of a range shift or what do you think's going on?

Speaker 2: I think I don't know if you've ever looked on, you know, a lot of people use Discover Life to look up distributions often of different species of bumblebees and if or different species of any kind of bee, but it's really interesting because when you do that, Montana is just always a black hole. There are records all the way up to all the edges of Montana, but nothing or very little in Montana.

So we always refer to Montana as the black hole. So I think that it's just not a lot of collecting has been done. I think I didn't mention that one of us did have a new state record and it was bombed bioniculatus, which previously had extended as far as the eastern Dakotas and Nebraska. So this was a fairly considerable range extension that I think with some collecting in the eastern portion of Montana, you know, would have been picked up earlier, but it really hasn't been that many people working on bees in Montana over the years. We've never had, you know, there's various groups that are popular. We've had people come to the museums and work on various groups, but there really hasn't been anybody doing much on bees in Montana until the last, I want to say like five, six years.

I feel like things have just really started to ramp up here. So when I give talks, one of the things I always say to people is that it's really great to be working on bees in Montana. And it's also not so great. It's great because there are so many things to discover, but it's also not so great because there are so many things to discover.

It makes it really hard. I mean, there's so much to learn here, I feel. And, you know, it's interesting for somebody who is doing bee research in this state where there are published and usable keys. I bet that's exciting too because you can ask different kinds of questions. We're still at the point, we're just trying to figure out what on earth is here.

Speaker 1: You know, it's funny, we always say the same thing about Oregon. We also use the word black hole. But it is true, you know, there's certain regions of the U.S. where they're not really well studied. We don't have species keys in the Pacific Northwest like Montana. And it does kind of hamper your ability to study trends about diversity and how they're going up or down, or if they're doing well. It's really hard to be able to draw those inferences when you, you know, you're at the starting point of not really having records in entire counties.

Speaker 2: That's one of the biggest questions I get when I give outreach talks is, so are bees in decline? Are the bees in Montana in decline? And I have to tell everybody the same thing. Like we don't even know what we have here. So we don't know if they're in decline.

You know, other parts of the country, you know, a lot more about the bees that occur there and how they're doing and for certain groups of bees. But we don't even know what we have here. So I can't say to people, that the first thing we are going to do, let's figure out what we have here and then move forward from there. I think a lot of people don't realize how much we don't know.

Speaker 1: I think that's really true. That's a really good point. The level of uncertainty that we operate with sometimes is quite high, especially when it comes to the bees of the West.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's interesting how, you know, it can often morph within the media to some crazy claims when, when the true story is that we don't really have all the information we need yet to make some of these assumptions and claims.

Speaker 1: Well, you know, one thing I did want to pick up on before we take a break is the difficulty of working with bumblebees. I think, you know, for many people, your first introduction is you see these color patterns and you think, well, this is simple. I, you know, why would I imagine some of the listeners were hearing you talk about having to, you know, bring the specimens back and work through them? You talk a little bit about, you know, some of the challenges of doing bumblebee identification. Yeah.

Speaker 2: I have a joke that when somebody starts working with bumblebees and then they tell me it's easy or like, oh, that's not as hard as I thought. Then I realized they're really not paying attention and they don't know what they're doing because you, it's like the more you learn, the more you question what you know. At least for me, I don't know. As soon as I think I'm confident about something, I see something new that makes me question everything I've done up to that point. And then I go back and start over again. You know, for example, when we got Bombus bimaculatus here and I was using the guide to the Western Bombus, if you didn't know that Bombus bimaculatus could occur here and you were just using the Western key, then you might key it out or you essentially like to force yourself to key it out to something that is within the choices, you know?

So I think it's good to always question what you know and to try different keys and to just, you know, say, hey, let's just try that again. I mean, it was a very interesting process for the bumblebees of Montana, the graduate student Amy Dolan and myself were the two primary people doing all of the identification. And so we would come in on a Sunday and we'd have our bumblebee party day where we would just sit there next to each other and just key out hundreds and hundreds of bumblebees.

And we would always, you know, check with one another. Here's what I think it is. What do you think? Anything that got sort of questionable or even if you sort of just start to get, I don't know, tired and lazy and you start thinking you're seeing things that you're not seeing with bumblebees. It's really hard. One of the things you have to look at is the length of the area below the eye and above the face of the mandible. And you're supposed to say whether it's short, medium, or long.

And, you know, those ones that are right on the cusp of being between short and medium or between medium and long and just really, really mess with you. So you really need to make sure that you look at multiple characters before you decide on what species you have. And I often get asked to identify bumblebees from photos. And I always tell people that I am not comfortable with that unless it's very, very clear and you can see all of the parts of the bee that you need to see. Then I sort of give them, you know, a couple of different. It could be this, it could be that, but you better just put SPP or SPP. Because I don't know.

Speaker 1: Well, I suppose the character that you were describing and well, male genitalia as well, that these are characters that are not color patterns, that there is mimicry and there are ways in which multiple species may have similar banding patterns or variable banding patterns. I know you have Bama's Rufus Sinctus, I remember out there. And it has a hundred different forms. Yes.

Speaker 2: Oh boy. And the funny thing is I saw this somewhere. Somebody has a shirt that says something like, ah, it's Rufus Sinctus again. Something like that. You know, that bee seems to shapeshift into any other species that it wants to. I hadn't keyed out bumblebees for a while. And this past summer I caught some bumblebees and I'm looking at this one like, oh my gosh, maybe I got a new species or something. And it was Rufus Sinctus. I just sort of lost my search image for the many color patterns that it can exhibit.

Speaker 1: Well, that should be the Bumblebees and Montana T-shirt. That I think it's it'll be a big seller. Yes.

Speaker 2: It's always Rufus Sinctus.

Speaker 1: Well, let's take a quick break and I want to come back and talk to you more about the broader project of expanding beyond bumblebees. All right, welcome back. So before the break, you were telling us about the bumblebees of Montana. It sounded like a pretty big task, but we were only talking about 30 or so species. Now you're embarking on the native bees of Montana. Tell us a little bit about that project and sort of what are your time horizons because I imagine that's going to be a lot longer-term project than the bumblebees.

Speaker 2: Yes, it's going to be a lot longer term. Right now we're being, we want to be conservative and we're sort of thinking that this is. like a 15-year project provided that we received funding for it to be a 15-year project. The Bumblebee project ended up being really really well received and it was actually named one of the influential articles collection for 2017. Oh, fantastic. So that was super exciting. Yeah. So that told us that there's just this excitement and there's this real need being demonstrated for this type of work. And certainly, as I've mentioned there's just this huge need for baseline data in Montana, one of the least studied states.

So we want to move forward using the Bumblebee project sort of as our model for how we will approach the next group of these that we work on. So we had a new graduate student just starting this semester in January. Her name is Zoe Pritchard. And basically, she will choose the group that she'd like to work on.

So for example, I think she might be leaning towards the mega Kylie of Montana. We will just follow that same protocol doing sampling all across the state, creating county-level distribution data, and creating taxonomic keys for a group of interest. And that sort of seems like the most doable way to tackle such a huge task.

Speaker 1: So following that same kind of pattern with the Bumblebees going through existing historic records, kind of figuring out those counties with poor record coverage and then kind of very targeted sampling. So you're not you're really sampling in the places that you need to sample in. Yes. That's really good.

Speaker 2: Exactly. And I mean, there are some cool places where there's been sampling done that we would go back to because you never know what you might find with a little extra sampling. But yeah, we want to use we feel like that was a really great model.

And so we want to do that. But of course, you know, for some groups like Blaze of Blossom dialect for which no keys exist in the Western US. We aren't even going to be able to tackle that for several years down the road. There's a graduate student working on the dialect of the Western US right now. And so that might be something that comes out in the next, you know, five years.

Speaker 1: We did have an episode a while back with Sam Droge and we asked him one of the students asked him what his favorite group was and his least favorite group and dialect was his least favorite. Please.

Speaker 2: I think that's everybody. Although, well, yeah, no, I yeah, I'm going to. I did attend Jason gives dialect workshop. In January of last year and it was really fun, though, I think it's like anything when they're when there is a key and you start to get it. It's really exciting and sometimes the harder it is the more rewarding it is when you key it out correctly. Now I'm not saying I keep stuff out correctly at this workshop, but I tried and it was really fun. I did have a new deeper appreciation for dialect just after that.

Speaker 1: But so the general approach is not to just go after all the bees. It is to sort of focus in to really get a handle on historic distribution and really kind of work on one group at a time.

That seems like a really logical approach in many ways because you're you can sidestep some of these issues of groups that are poorly taxonomically defined till the future when they're better defined.

Speaker 2: Yes. Yes, exactly. And of course, I mean, while we are out, it doesn't mean that we're not collecting everything when we are out at a particular location. We are collecting everything that we can get our hands on.

And then, of course, it comes back and everything has to be mounted and properly labeled and database and then identified. So even when we were doing the bumblebee work, we were collecting additional specimens in all of the locations. So we do have, you know, make a Kylie that we've collected during the bumblebee project that we'll be able to use going forward.

Speaker 1: So when you're out collecting and sort of doing these targeted collecting, is it just a few people doing it or how are you able to get that cover this large area when you start to tackle each of these different bee families? Yes.

Speaker 2: So through Mike Ivy's lab, he does pest surveillance for the Montana Department of Agriculture. So for different types of invasive beetles and other pests. And so while that person is out traveling across the state, you know, there's some downtime. Of course, you're putting up these traps and then traveling to the next location. And so we have found a way to incorporate some bee collecting in there as well. In addition, something that we're trying this year that's going to be really interesting is that we are reaching out to one-room schoolhouses in counties of interest. And what we are hoping to do is to have these teachers, we're trying to devise a lesson plan for them to teach their students about these. In doing so, they would be putting out goals for us in these difficult or far-away counties and then sending the bees from the beavers back to us.

Speaker 1: Oh, that's a great project. And then those students, you know, get to participate in this really big state effort. That's amazing. Yes.

Speaker 2: Right now we are identifying which counties and trying to get in contact with various teachers in these counties. We're putting together the lesson plan now and we're hoping to have that ready to go at the beginning of April to mail out to different schoolhouses. So if that ends up working, that will be a really great way to have this collaborative effort without having to travel throughout the state. We will be sending out probably two teams of two people this summer to target specific counties of interest as well as some of these habitats of interest. So for example, with the prior mountains that I'm interested in, at some point I would love to do a checklist of the bees that occur in that region in addition to the genus level or the particular genus that we're working on at any given time.

Speaker 1: Well, this sounds like a really great use of a number of, in a real innovative way of using both citizen scientists, very young ones in far-flung places, but also the Department of Agriculture's surveillance program seems like I've never really heard anybody do that before. It's a great way to do things, but also this sending, you know, experts into specific areas of high value to do more intensive sampling. Yes.

Speaker 2: And one thing I think I forgot to mention that I wanted to mention, or actually maybe you might be going to ask me, let me let you go.

Speaker 1: No, no, you don't expect much from me.

Speaker 2: Well, I was going to say one thing that I didn't mention was that this new wild bees at Montana Project, we were very lucky to receive funding for this again from the Montana Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant. That's the same granting agency that funded the Bumblebee work.

Speaker 1: Well, I can totally understand how this would be supported by a specialty crop block grant, given the importance of a lot of these wild bees to pollinate agricultural crops. But you know, something I wanted to ask you about just in conclusion is, so you talked about this being a long-term project and it's, you know, it takes a lot of foresight to sort of think, you know, many steps ahead. What do you see as the next bunch of steps for coming up with this? I really love this vision that you played out of a, you know, a complete inventory of the bees of Montana. Yes.

Speaker 2: So it's not easy to do bees work and it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of money. And oftentimes when it comes to fun, these six taxonomic works, seem to have maybe a lower funding rate.

And so we have funding through 2021 right now. And we hopefully can tackle all the species within one other genus and also potentially do, you know, a particular area of interest within Montana. We think that would make two, you know, nice complimentary projects that a student could do. And if each student does something similar to that, you know, it will take a considerable amount of time. So 10, 15 years probably to complete an entire comprehensive inventory of what we have here in the state.

Speaker 1: Well, like, and I can imagine that I like that approach to a sort of like, at least you finish, you know, the success of the Bumblebee project sort of gave rise to this next project. And I like the idea as well of, you know, the success of both, you know, tackling a new family, but also maybe taking an area and really defining it well area of interest. Those are really great stepping stones that you need for a project of this length. You need really concrete stepping stones. Yes. Yes.

Speaker 2: Although I shouldn't tell anybody this, even if all of our funding ended tomorrow, I would still be doing this in my spirit.

Speaker 1: Me too. Me too. We're not telling anybody. Nobody's listening to that. Okay. You mentioned coming up with these checklists as well as these really great first steps. And I understand that you've had some checklists recently published from Montana State.

Speaker 2: Yes, we did actually a week ago today. We had a checklist of the bees associated with diversified farmlands in Montana. So that was really exciting. Great. Yeah. Importance of, you know, the importance of these wild pollinators for farmlands. And now we have a list of what, even if these bees are not necessarily providing pollination services on these farmlands, we have an idea of what kinds of bees these farmlands are supporting. And so this can help direct conservation efforts.

And that was, I think, a really, really fun and important project because nobody to my knowledge had done any work on looking at what bees are on in any of our agricultural areas. Two previous checklists came out. One by Mary Rose Coleman and Skyler Burrows in 2017. And that was looking at the checklist of bees that were found on a private conservation ranch in Montana. Then October of 2018, another checklist came out and this was looking at bees in three different areas in Montana. And that's part of a study looking at recovery after fire.

So the plant community that comes back and the bee community. And so from that work, another checklist came out. It's interesting because all three of these studies that recently produced checklists, all started in 2013.

So, you know, it was just like all of a sudden everybody was doing these interesting works and we all ended up publishing around the same time. But from those checklists that comprise about 94,000 specimens within those. And of those, we have documented at least 399 bee species so far.

Speaker 1: You know, I was going to mention it. I think it's interesting just tracking how we got started here in Oregon. It was a specialty crop block grant. It came up on an episode with Sarah Kincaid a few episodes ago where it was the same thing. It started with a kind of seeded project that sort of then picked up some steam and started to move along like it. And it was an inventory of bees in agricultural areas that sort of got it kicked off. But it is interesting hearing about your experience in Montana, how you guys are really efficient and agile at leveraging these early grants and have kind of turned it into something with a much longer time horizon.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And I guess I always say this. It's just hard to get funding. We all know it's hard to get funding. And sometimes you have to be asking these questions that are perceived as being more sexy or of course in the case of agriculture, more practical, putting more food on the table, pollination. But in doing so, you're collecting all of these bees and they need to be identified and you need to know what's going on. So then there's that taxonomic aspect to it all. And so it's neat to be able to provide these checklists of what's there, but then also to have asked experimental questions that we ask, you know, for the farmland checklist that was part of a bigger work looking at whether or not you can use native perennial wildflower strips in order to support native bees on these farmlands.

And that work was done in collaboration with Dr. Laura Berkel and Dr. Kevin O'Neill. So it was just it was neat to be able to do that and ask that practical question from a bee conservation perspective, but then also to look at it from a taxonomic, funnistic perspective. So to do both because it's just it's hard to get the funding to just do the taxonomic work sometimes. So then you kind of have to do this sort of dual duty.

Speaker 1: Well, you know, it's really I think a lot of us in the region are really looking to Montana. You guys have a lot of great initiatives. You've got a lot of good bee researchers doing, you know, multiple working money from honeybee virus is that well, I guess we've had, you know, a few people on.

We've had Michelle Flanagan and Bob Peterson. So there's a lot going on in Montana right now. It's really exciting and really excited to hear about this additional initiative. We're all cheering for you across the nation. This sounds awesome. Thank you.

Speaker 2: I did an email say of Drugie recently to see a bee. I heard he has a database with some Montana records in it. And I asked him for it and his email back was funny. It was sort of like, wow, you're tackling a really big project. I was like, yeah, I guess we are.

Yep, we are. So but I'm not going to be overwhelmed. It's fun.

It's so fun. And getting back to one of the questions you asked me earlier was sort of like, how long do we think it's going to take to complete all of this? As I mentioned earlier we're at about 399 species documented in the state so far. We are speculating that we're probably going to end up with somewhere between 500 and that's 1000 different species. I'm saying 750 species, you know, which means we have 350 more species to find and identify. And that is just not an easy task.

Speaker 1: Well, let's take a break right now. I'm going to ruminate on how you get those other 350 species. But I have a few questions we ask all our guests. We'll take a break and I'm going to come back and hopefully, we'll be able to press you for these answers. Okay, we are back. The first question we ask all our guests is do you have a book recommendation for our listeners?

Speaker 2: I do. And the way that I decided on my favorite book was to go by the number of copies that I've purchased or that I own. So with that being said, I have two answers. The first is these in your backyard. I think that they should give me some money because I think I've bought like, I don't know, seven copies so far. I have been giving them as gifts.

Speaker 1: I have four copies on my bookshelf. Oh my goodness.

Speaker 2: I actually only own one copy, but I have given them to all of my students in the lab. When I am out giving outreach talks, I promote this book all the time. I think it is a great book. I'm a little jealous. I say, oh, that's the book I would have loved to have made. I love the aesthetic.

The photographs are great. It's inviting. It's easy to understand for anyone who's just getting interested in bees. It's not intimidating.

I often go to it. If I need some basic biology information, I'll go to that first before I go pull out the big guns, the bees of the world, which everybody knows is another absolutely amazing accomplishment. And I do have two copies of that. And one thing that's new about one of the copies I have, I don't know if anybody's mentioned this before, but I have a modified version that was given to me as a gift by a passionate native bee enthusiast, Don Rolf.

And he took that huge book and he cut it up into six smaller volumes and had each volume bound and gave it to me and I know several others as a gift.

Speaker 1: So Don Rolf, he's down in Walla Walla or something? Yes. We got to get him on one of these shows. Yeah, okay.

Speaker 2: Yes, you should. He's great. And I mean, it's so nice because who wants to love that huge book into bed at night to read? Like you can just choose an individual, you know, a small chapter that's a quarter of an inch and sit down with that. It's wonderful. I don't know why I didn't think of it. It's so smart.

Speaker 1: Fantastic recommendations. So the other question we ask our guests is, is there a go-to tool for the kind of work that you do?

Speaker 2: Yes, and I'm going to do the field tool and the lab tool and the field tool is my Rose entomology net. Oh, good. And that net with a really, really, really fine mesh net bag is what I prefer to use. It's just really flowy and handleable. And with the fine mesh, you can really see what you're doing when you're catching these. And I actually stumbled upon that because my husband is a fly taxonomist and the flies that he catches are smaller than, oh my gosh, basically when you look at the pins, it looks like there's nothing on them. It just looks like a box full of pins with no stuff. And so when the nets have gotten holes in them that are big enough for his flies to get out, I get the hand me down that and they're wonderful.

Speaker 1: No, I know that net bag too. I was introduced to them by a really great native bee biologist in Nova Scotia, Steve Javrick. And they are just like, it's something like the elves in Lord of the Rings might have made. They're really soft. Yes.

Speaker 2: I cannot use a regular net now. I mean, it's like it's so stiff. It just doesn't, it doesn't flow. It doesn't move. So I can't do it anymore. I've been spoiled. This is why I can't have nice things.

Speaker 1: Well, and as you know, Rose no longer, I don't know what happened. They no longer.

Speaker 2: They were bought by Bioquip. Bioquip.

Speaker 1: So we will put the biochip link to the nice aluminum handles and those beautiful net bags. Good job.

Speaker 2: I thought getting a new net forever. I used to have the, you know, the wooden stick net with the horrible net bag and I used that for so many years. And then I was given the rose entomology net as a gift. And I was like, Oh my gosh, how did I even use the other net?

Speaker 1: Way back on, I think episode two or three, Joseph Wilson told us that he uses a modified golf club. And I was like, that sounds cool. Yes.

Speaker 2: I've seen a lot of people with that net as well. That's pretty cool. I don't swing that hard, but I don't know. And then, of course, a microscope.

Speaker 1: Oh yeah, your lab one microscope tells what makes a good microscope.

Speaker 2: I splurged and about five or six years ago, I bought a used microscope on eBay. And it is just so awesome to have a microscope at home. And to be able to of course, you know, look at these and see things that people just don't get to see. If you have company over, you can show them these under the scope and they are blown away.

Speaker 1: Describe what makes a good microscope for beta axonomy.

Speaker 2: So I have a dissecting microscope. It goes up to, I think, 40x. It's a Leica mv6. And with a ring light, which I love the ring lights because with any of those old snake lights, of course, you've got your hands going in front of the light and you're blocking the light. So it was in the way of great LED ring lights now. Oh my gosh, they're amazing.

Speaker 1: I guess the other thing that people maybe don't think about right away is these, you know, zoom magnification, being able to have a microscope that kind of will move up and down with a nice knob.

Speaker 2: Yes, mine has continuous zoom, which I really enjoy because, with the, I can't remember what the other one's called.

Speaker 1: The kind of steps you lose vision for a second, then it goes up. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2: Exactly. I am again spoiled with having the continuous zoom. It's so nice to keep your eye on that character that you were looking at and not lose track of it.

For some reason, when you don't have the continuous and you lose that vision for a minute, it just takes me a minute to sort of adjust to what I was looking at prior to the magnification changing.

Speaker 1: So our last question is with Horizon, there are 750 different bees there. It might be hard to choose, but we ask her a guess. Is there one that sticks out? The one that you have a particular fondness for?

Speaker 2: Yeah, my answer is basically,

Speaker 1: either whatever bee I've learned about that day. Yeah, no, nothing sticks out. It depends. It's like we go to Belize every couple of years and collect bees for vacation and work. But when I'm in Belize, I would tell you my favorite are orchid bees as well as centrist.

When I'm in the deserts of the Southwest, it's usually centrist. Part of the reason for that is I love things that are hard to catch. It's sort of like a sport trying to catch these bees. So why are bees in that genus hard to catch?

Speaker 2: They're just so fast. They are so fast. They love being out in the real, real heat of the day. And when you're down in Tucson or somewhere and it's 100 degrees and you're trying to hold still and wait for them to get close enough to you, it's sort of just this, I don't know, competition between you and the bee.

I'm not sure. It's just, it's really, really fun. And they're just beautiful, amazing bees.

And we don't have any centrists in Montana. So when I am in Montana, though, if I was absolutely pressed, I would probably say, at least that my favorite family is mega kylids, Mega kylid. And part of that is because I'm really fascinated with clearing bees. So I keep a colony of blue orchard mason bees at the house. And I just find it so fascinating to watch them. There's nothing like coming home from work and just sitting down with a drink in front of one of their little nests and watching the females come back with that little ball of mud covered in pollen. I just, it's a super fun pastime.

Speaker 1: Well, I agree with you and I look forward to, you know, in a couple of years to have a nice inventory of the mega kylid of Montana. Yay, yes. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. We really appreciate it.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for having me. I really had fun.

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. 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. Bye.

Dr. Casey Delphia is a Research Scientist at Montana State University and Associate Curator of Apoidea in the Montana Entomology Collection (MTEC) where she conducts research on managed solitary bees and wild native bees in agricultural and wildland ecosystems. Projects include evaluating the use of wildflower strips for supporting bees and pollination services on farmlands and, most recently, documenting the wild bees of Montana. Towards building a comprehensive bee species list for the state, Casey co-authored the Bumble Bees of Montana as well as two recent checklists. In her spare time, Casey enjoys collecting bees in the desert southwest, the tropics of Belize, and the many interesting habitats found throughout Montana.

Listen in to learn about Dr. Delphia’s bee atlas projects, why Montana is a “black hole” of bee data, and where to find the coolest native bees of Montana.

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“It’s really great to be working on bees in Montana and it’s also not so great. It’s great because there are so many things to discover and it’s also not so great because there are so many things to discover.” – Dr. Casey Delphia

Show Notes:

  • Where to find the coolest native bees of Montana
  • What Dr. Delphia is hoping to accomplish in her recent bumblebee atlas project
  • Why Montana is a “black hole” of bee data
  • The challenges of bumblebee identification
  • Dr. Delphia’s upcoming project documenting the native bees of Montana
  • How Dr. Delphia collects specimens for her research
  • Dr. Delphia’s go-to tools for the field and the lab

“When somebody starts working with bumblebees and then they tell me it’s easy, then I realize they’re really not paying attention and they don’t know what they’re doing. The more you learn, the more you question what you know.” – Dr. Casey Delphia

Links Mentioned:

Casey’s favorite pollinator resources:

Connect with Dr. Casey Delphia through Montana State University

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