Since the 1890s, Americans have responded to economic declines by transforming urban vacant land for agricultural production. Similar trends continue today and urban agriculture is revitalizing post-industrial cities, like Cleveland, OH where economic recession has resulted in the formation of over 22,000 vacant lots. Currently, Cleveland hosts an estimated 235 urban farms and this proliferation reflects worldwide interest in urban agriculture initiatives. However, as our world’s 800 million urban farmers try to address food insecurity and support growing human populations, they are faced with land use legacies including soil compaction, contamination, and high degrees of impervious surface—factors which challenge urban pollinators and influence availability of floral and nesting resources. Since research shows that urban bees are critical to urban crop quality and quantity, the sustainability of urban agriculture relies on urban pollinator populations. Therefore, we propose to identify the flowering plants that sustain wild bee populations critical for urban farm pollination in Cleveland, OH. Our project aims to utilize next generation sequencing tools to: 1) determine the crop and non-crop floral resources found within an urban farm that are important for bee larvae and 2) evaluate if the establishment of “pocket prairies”, or vacant lots seeded with native prairie vegetation, alter bee foraging and improve reproductive success. Through these two objectives, we will identify which cavity nesting bees pollinate urban crops, assess the potential contributions of these solitary bees to urban farm pollination, and make recommendations for on-farm flower plantings that will encourage bees to nest and reproduce near urban farms. In the short term, our project will contribute to important research on how to analyze pollen more effectively and conserve urban pollinators. Long term, our project will inform urban farmers about pollinator resources (both nesting and foraging) and encourage them to improve farming practices to benefit pollinator communities and the services they provide. As economic success is integrally tied to ecological success, our work will support healthier urban environments and more productive urban agriculture.
Our research’s long-term goals are to demonstrate the value of cavity nesting bees for urban crop pollination, and examine how to manage urban habitats to support productive bee communities. We will progress towards these general long term goals through two learning outcomes and one action outcome. By the end of our project, we will help 60-100 urban farmers and gardeners learn (1) what crop and non-crop floral resources bees are using on urban farms and (2) if planting prairie plants near nesting sites improves bee reproductive success. Likewise, we will encourage these urban farmers to take action and modify their farm management practices to incorporate pollinator habitat on their farms (Action Outcome).
In order to achieve our learning and action outcomes we will conduct pollinator workshops, field days in urban farms and pocket prairies, extension factsheets, scientific publications, and partner with a farming advisory committee of six Cleveland urban farmers, who will be compensated for their time and participation. Educating our advisory committee and other urban farmers about pollinator communities within urban agroecosystems will provide these growers with the information they need to make sustainable decisions.
- We established trap nests at nine urban farms and nine pocket prairies in Cleveland, OH on April 5, 2017.
- Trap nests consisted of a PVC pipe filled with thirty cardboard nesting straws (15 cm long) at three diameters (4,6,8 mm) and provided supplementary bee nesting cavities.
- Every other week (April-July), we visited each nest, removed all occupied straws, and replaced them with new straws.
- We also completed a floral inventory and measured bloom abundance and area along four 10 m transects, arraying out from each nest in cardinal directions.
- Removed straws were then X-rayed to confirm nesting, and dissected for further molecular analysis.
- We collected 111 bee larvae and their pollen provisions from 6 urban farms and 8 urban prairies in Cleveland, OH.
- All bee nests were X-rayed and then pollen/bees were dissected
- DNA extraction is underway!
Educational & Outreach Activities
In conjunction with the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corps and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, Katie and her mentored undergraduate co-presented to an estimated 100-115 urban residents about their research on urban farms and its potential to influence urban pollinators.
Rodney and Katie also co-conducted two separate field days with 47 youth who were employed as urban farmers through Green Corps. On these field days they broadly taught youth farmers about insects, and then familiarized them with urban pollinators and their role in pollinating crops.
Katie also traveled to Uppsala, Sweden and presented her research (to-date) to a collaborator’s group at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).