Evaluating competition between managed and wild bees in a semi-urban agricultural landscape

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $346,058.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2027
Grant Recipient: Colorado State University
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Thomas Davis
Colorado State University
Dr. John Mola
Colorado State University


  • Animal Products: honey


  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health

    Proposal abstract:

    The decline of wild bee populations is a critical concern that
    threatens the sustainability of pollination services across many
    landscapes. Wild bee communities are strongly affected by land
    management practices and habitat fragmentation, but also by
    competition with non native species, including honeybees.
    Although use of managed honeybee hives is important for
    optimizing production in various agricultural systems,
    hive-keeping is also growing as a recreational pursuit among
    hobbyists and homeowners, which may increase regional competitive
    pressures on wild bee populations for access to limited pollen
    resources. Consequently, there is a need to understand how
    honeybees interact with wild bees, and the consequences of such
    interactions for both managed honeybees and wild bees. Strong
    competition between honeybees and wild bees could result in
    population declines of wild bee assemblages, and a corresponding
    loss of natural pollination services. Here, we ask whether (and
    to what extent) managed honeybees compete with wild bees,
    evaluating effects of species overlap on patterns of resource use
    and biodiversity in the Colorado Front Range region. Our project
    will establish a collaboration between researchers, growers, and
    hive managers to examine patterns of floral visitation and nest
    site use by wild bees in the presence and absence of honeybee
    hives using an experimental framework that varies cropping system
    as well as timing, duration, and density of honeybee hive
    deployment. Project results will help to inform whether there is
    evidence of ecologically important overlap in the foraging and
    habitat use patterns of multiple wild bee taxa and honeybees, and
    how parameters of hive management (hive density) influence this
    overlap. Project results will be disseminated to agricultural
    stakeholders via multiple pathways including (1) publishing new
    extension bulletins on honeybee competition, (2) integrating
    project data into educational modules for regional Native Plant
    Master, Master Gardener, and Pollinator Watch extension programs,
    and (3) stakeholder engagement workshops with growers,
    professional hive managers, and hobbyists to interpret and
    discuss results in the context of current hive management
    tactics. We will employ summative assessments to evaluate project
    effectiveness by monitoring change over time in honeybee
    densities across semi-urban agricultural landscapes, analysis of
    informal surveys (both course survey and WSARE survey tools),
    text analysis of grower narratives, and web analytics to evaluate
    use of educational products. We expect our research, educational
    products, and summative assessments to result in co-produced
    policy recommendations in our region regarding future
    conservation efforts for wild bee populations. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overarching goal of this project is to
    quantify the impacts of backyard beekeeping and small-scale
    commercial beekeeping on patterns of foraging and nesting by wild
    bee communities, and make specific recommendations to natural
    resource managers, beekeepers (hobbyist and professional), and
    the general public on best practices for wild bee conservation.
    To this end, we address the following research and educational


    1. Quantify patterns of floral visitation - Does
    the presence of honeybees reduce wild bee visitation to

    2. Assess nest site use - Does the presence of
    honeybees reduce the probability of nest site use by wild bees?

    3. Test whether wild bees affect honeybee health and
    y - Do wild bees affect honeybee health and

    4. Model outcomes for wild bees - What are the
    long-term prospects for wild bee populations in the presence of
    honeybee colonies?


    5. Improve existing programmatic content -
    Incorporate new modules on pollinator management into existing
    content in popular extension programs

    6. Produce new extension fact sheets - develop
    new semi-technical brief for backyard beekeepers and
    conservation-minded members of the general public

    7. Stakeholder workshops - engage beekeepers and
    pollinator conservation groups in workshops to develop
    relationships, policy recommendations, and long-term research


    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.