Native Bee Habitat Rehabilitation; Encouraging greater adoption of sustainable pollination practices – part III

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,934.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Alexandru Surcica
Penn State Cooperative Extension


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, hedges - grass, riparian buffers, wildlife, hedges - woody
  • Production Systems: holistic management

    Proposal abstract:

    A third of the human diet relies directly or indirectly on biotic pollination. Pollinators contribute 9.5% to the global agricultural output, or about $153 billion. In the U.S., the value of pollination services has been estimated at $18.9 billion for honeybees and $3 billion for native bees. Without bees, the flowers of bee pollinated crops will abort or will set small, misshaped, flavorless and quickly perishable fruit. In addition, many wind pollinated crops have better yields when bees augment the pollination process. Currently, honeybees are decimated by a combination of pests, pathogens, and stresses as result of poor management and overexploitation. However, wild bees can successfully pollinate commercial crops by themselves if some farm land is managed as bee habitat with an abundance of floral and nesting resources. Certain wild bee species not only provide free pollination but also are active in inclement weather and are more effective in vectoring pollen between flowers than honeybees. This proposal seeks funding for the third and last phase of the project that deals with managing and monitoring the research plots. Our overall goal with this project is to determine the costs and returns per square foot for native bee habitat rehabilitation for farms situated in the northeastern United States. With the knowledge of how to conserve and restore the native bee habitat and the costs needed to do so, farmers will be better equipped to avoid the lack of or expensive pollination triggered by the ongoing honeybee crisis. In addition to having a ready supply of on-farm pollination services, by actively managing a population of plants rewarding to native pollinators throughout the year, growers will have a healthy and diverse population of pest predators, reduced farm soil erosion, irrigation water loss and fertilizer runoff, as well as more windbreaks, weed suppression, etc. Outcomes of this project will include recommendations for establishing native bee habitats including plant suppliers and a demonstration area to provide ongoing education to growers seeking to establish their own habitats.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In 2009, we completed the first phase of the “Native bee habitat rehabilitation” project, comprised of plant material installation, maintenance, and bee monitoring. Two 25’ X100’ linear bee habitats were installed on two sites, Dickinson College Farm and Penn State Southeast Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SEAREC) farm. Although not specified in the 2009 NESARE contract, this was possible due to some in-house discretionary funds and a generous educational discount (23%) offered by our plant suppliers. Dictated by plant material availability, the installation of bee habitats was done in stages, starting from May and finishing at the end of June. Per site, on average, we used 96 hours of mechanized and manual labor for preparation and plant installation. There was an additional 8 hours per month needed for field maintenance. Due to a rainy early summer, we had very few plugs to replace, and all plants developed relatively fast.

    Plant material was selected according to their reward potential and their blooming time. Some plant species were substituted, since the initial proposed plant species were not available in our suppliers’ stock. Attached you will find the plant material list used in our plots. Although very important for bee habitats in the early season, shrubs and trees were installed only at the Dickinson College farm due to the fact that they develop slowly and their contribution to the bee diet would not be reflected in our data. Because of heavy rains and site inclination, the mulch from the bee habitat plot installed at Dickinson College farm was washed away and registered increased weed pressure, resulting in extra labor (30 hours). Overall, we had very good plant growth on both sites with abundant blooming. Both bee habitats served as demonstration fields at numerous educational events for various green industry personnel.

    Due to the positive rapport between a low variance associated with a good capacity to collect diverse bee species, in 2009 we chose bee pan traps to use as our bee monitoring method. The bee pan trap method consisted of placing brightly colored, white, yellow, and blue plastic cereal bowls on the ground from 7:00 am till 5:00 pm every two weeks. We filled the bowls with water and used a drop of detergent in each as a surfactant. Starting in May and finishing at the beginning of November, we monitored the bee population and diversity on both farms. On each farm this was done in two places, on the edge of the habitat and 500 yards away from the bee habitat, towards the center of the farm. Additionally, pan traps were set at two other farms, where practices regarding pollinator conservation were not modified. This bee monitoring protocol will allow us to better identify statistically the effects our project has on bee populations in a regional context.

    In 2011, we continued our bee monitoring efforts and started identifying bee specimens. All the bee specimens collected will be properly pinned and labeled over the next few months. The specimens that we cannot identify will be sent to the Penn State Entomology Department, the Pennsylvania State Museum, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. All the data collected through the bee census will be added to a regional bee database for a better understanding of ongoing national pollinator crises. After recording the data, some bee specimens will be properly displayed in cases as a voucher for future research, while the rest of the specimens will be used as learning tools in educational programs with farmers and the general public.

    In 2012, we plan to perform bee sampling at both farms. The sampling will be done close to the bee foraging habitats, as well as 500 yards or more away from the habitats. Following the same schedule, the vegetable and small fruit crops will be monitored for bee activity. Bee samples will be collected and identified. The data resulted will allow us to determine what bee species perform crop pollination and visit the bee foraging habitat. Comparing the bee diversity and density between areas that are near the bee foraging habitat versus areas located 500 yards or more away will indicate the level of change that has occurred.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.