Sampling the bee community at four diversified farms in Montana over the last three years, we have found these farms support diverse assemblages of wild bees, with over 211 taxa (the vast majority resolved to species) documented. This has greatly added to our understanding of the biology, ecology, and diversity of wild bees in Montana and specifically those associated with farmlands. We found that bees varied among farms in abundance, richness, and community composition, though some farms were more similar to one another than others. Experimentally-planted native perennial flower strips, whose blooms spanned the entire growing season, supported a diverse and abundant bee community, with 130 taxa visiting flower strips across farms (62% of all bee taxa documented). Flower strips were visited by both common generalist bees, as well as rare specialist bee species. Individual plant species within the flower strips varied in their overall attractiveness to bees (i.e., abundance, richness, and community composition). Several plant species were particularly attractive to bees, though each of these plant species was generally visited by a different assemblage of bee species. Other plant species were less attractive to bees, but these tended to be rare bees. Therefore, particular plant species could be selected for specific conservation goals, such as supporting high bee abundance, diversity, or particular bee species. Overall, flower strips did not increase bee visitation to the crops we studied or enhance crop pollination (reproductive success of crops). For squash, this could be because the primary visitors to flowers were honey bees, not native bees, though native bees were abundant on farms. Income from the sale of seeds produced by flower strips can provide economic benefits, even in the absence of improved pollination services. Our findings have value to producers, conservationists, government agencies, and other audiences interested in enhancing habitat for bee conservation. Our results provide data to help guide plant selection and incentives for supporting pollinators and creating sustainable agroecosystems.
To communicate our projects’ progress and findings, we gave numerous presentations during the past three years to diverse audiences. In general, our presentations covered topics including the importance of pollinators in agriculture and natural ecosystems, native bee biology and identification, using native perennial flower strips for enhancing bee habitat, and current findings from our project. We also participated in several field days, a farmer’s market educational booth, and workshops. We surveyed participants at talks and outreach events and found that their level of knowledge increased for many of the topics we discussed, particularly native bees and native bee conservation. We also created a web page with photos of research and outreach activities to further share details of our project and display our outreach materials.
The objectives of this research and education project were to
1) evaluate the use of native perennial flower strips as a strategy for supporting native bees on farmlands,
2) determine the value of flower strips for improving crop pollination and yields through changes in the abundance, diversity, or behavior of native bees,
3) evaluate the potential of flower strips for native seed production and sales, and
4) execute a research-based outreach program to communicate our findings to producers, land managers, agricultural professionals (e.g., NRCS personnel and Extension agents), scientists, and the general public.