Evaluating Native Perennial Flower Strips for Enhancing Native Bees and Pollination Services on Farmlands

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $170,951.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Laura Burkle
Montana State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: sunflower
  • Vegetables: cucurbits
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Native bees are increasingly recognized as important components of productive and sustainable agro-ecosystems. However, native bees are declining, likely due to habitat loss that reduces floral resources and nesting sites. Farming practices that support thriving and diverse communities of native bees and their pollination services are greatly needed, yet largely unexplored. One strategy to increase the abundance of beneficial insects on farmland is to provide non-crop floral resources in the form of annual flower strips. Few studies have evaluated the use of native perennial flower strips to provide resources (nectar and pollen) for pollinator conservation. Furthermore, the use of native perennials likely offers many additional benefits, including habitat stability, native plant conservation, and reduced yearly seeding costs, compared to annuals. In general, due to their lasting nature, perennial plants are a more sustainable and self-perpetuating option for flower strips. To our knowledge, no similar studies have been conducted in the western region, making it unique for this area. In addition, despite supporting a diverse suite of crops and increasing public interest for fresh, locally-grown produce, Montana is understudied with respect to its bee diversity and the role of native bees in agriculture.

    At three cooperators' farms, we will establish flower strips and experimental crop strips, containing both squash and sunflower. Over three years, we will use a variety of sampling methods to monitor native bees associated with the flower and crop strips. We will determine the degree to which proximity to flower strips increases pollination (yield) of our focal crops. We will also assess the potential of flower strips to help meet the demand for native wildflower seed for local conservation and restoration projects. Our findings will be delivered through annual field days at farm sites and Bridger Plant Materials Center, a bee identification workshop, a website, extension publications, and peer-reviewed articles. This project will increase our understanding of using perennial flower strips as a farm management scheme for supporting native bees, improving pollination services, and producing native wildflower seed. The project will also provide valuable information on the biology and ecology of native bees on farmlands in general, and in Montana specifically. Finally, this work will increase stakeholder awareness of the importance of the beneficial synergy between sustainable agriculture, native wildflowers, and pollinator communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our long-term goal is to advance on-farm management strategies that support healthy, stable, and sustainable pollination systems in agriculture in the western region and across the U.S. for improving agricultural sustainability and environmental quality. To better understand and encourage wider use of perennial flower strips on farmlands as a strategy for enhancing pollinators, improving pollination services and crop yield, and producing native wildflower seed, we propose the following objectives:

    Objective 1. Determine the effects of native perennial flower strips (integrated into farmlands) on the abundance, diversity, and foraging behavior of native bees in crop fields. Performance targets: 1) Identify changes in the community composition, relative species abundance or plant visitation rates of native bees on farmlands in response to the addition of perennial flower strips. 2) Identify important native plant species as food resources throughout the growing season for native bees on farmlands. 3) Increase our understanding of biology and ecology of native bees on farmlands in general, and in Montana specifically. 4) Increase understanding of using flower strips on farmlands as a strategy for pollinator conservation.

    Objective 2. Determine the value of flower strips in improving crop pollination and yields through increases in the abundance, diversity, or behavior of native bees. Performance targets: 1) Identify changes in visitation rates of native bees to crop plants due to the addition of flower strips on farmlands. 2) Identify changes in crop pollination and yields due to the addition of flower strips on farmlands. 3) Identify important native bee species for crop pollination. 4) Conduct an economic analysis to document the overall costs and benefits of using flower strips as a management practice on farmlands over the course of three years. 5) Increase understanding of the importance of native bees for sustainable crop pollination on farmlands. 6) Increase understanding of using flower strips on farmlands for improving crop pollination and yields via their effects on native bee communities and behavior.

    Objective 3. Evaluate the feasibility of flower strips for native seed production and sales. Performance Targets: 1) Conduct a cost-benefit analysis in year 2 using current native seed market values and flower strip seed yields to determine the possibility of seed sales. 2) Initiate trial seed sales in year 3 if cost-benefit analysis is favorable. 3) Conduct a cost-benefit analysis in year 3 (as above in year 2) to determine the possibility of seed sales, as seed yields may be higher due to increases in plant sizes from year 2 to 3. This analysis will provide additional information on the potential profitability from seed sales and, if year 2 cost-benefit analysis is unfavorable, year 3 analysis will provide more information on the likelihood of future seed sales. 4) Increase understanding of the use of flower strips on farmlands for native seed production and sales.

    Objective 4. Execute a research-based outreach program to communicate our findings to producers, agricultural professionals (NRCS personnel, Extension agents), land owners, and managers, scientists, and the general public. Performance Targets: 1) Organize a total of five farm field days at research sites to demonstrate implementation, growth, and establishment of flower strips and to highlight the diversity and abundance of native bees visiting flower strips. 2) Organize a native bee identification workshop for producers and agricultural professionals. 3) Produce four extension publications. 4) Produce two peer-reviewed articles. 5) Disseminate our extension materials to local, statewide, and regional audiences. 6) Create a website to document our research efforts and to provide extension materials in a downloadable format.

    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.