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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: A native ground nesting bee, Nomia melanderi, sustainably managed to pollinate alfalfa across an intensively agricultural landscape

Author
item Cane, James

Submitted to: Apidologie
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 14, 2008
Publication Date: May 1, 2008
Repository URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/apido:2008013
Citation: Cane, J.H. 2008. A native ground nesting bee, Nomia melanderi, sustainably managed to pollinate alfalfa across an intensively agricultural landscape. Apidologie. 39: 315-323

Interpretive Summary: General Summary: The world’s only intensively managed ground-nesting bee, the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi Cockerell), has been used for >50 years as an effective pollinator of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) grown for seed across the western USA. Across a 240 km2 watershed in Washington, the 17-24 more populous aggregations were annually censused for nesting bees for 8 years. Alkali bees multiplied 9-fold to 17 million females, the largest reported metapopulation of non-social bees. Several sites have remained populous for an unprecedented 50 years. The most populous nesting bed (1.5 ha) grew to 5.3 million nesting females, at densities of <1000 nests/m2; it is the largest bee nesting aggregation ever recorded. This first-ever exhaustive landscape-level census for any non-social bee reveals that even amid intensive conventional agriculture, a native bee can sustainably multiply to vast numbers, persisting for 50 years.

Technical Abstract: Technical Abstract: The world’s only intensively managed ground-nesting bee, the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi Cockerell), has been used for >50 years as an effective pollinator of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) grown for seed across the western USA. Throughout the 240 km2 Touchet Valley alfalfa farming region of southeastern Washington state (Fig. 1), all 76 past and present soil nesting beds of the alkali bee were surveyed (Fig. 5), and the 17-24 more populous aggregations annually censused for nesting bees from 1999 to 2006 (Fig. 6). The valley’s 2-4000 ha of alfalfa bloom (1/4 of U.S. production) supported a 9-fold increase in alkali bee numbers during these 8 years (Fig. 4). By 2006, 17 million females were nesting densely (Fig. 2, 3) on just 19 ha valley-wide, the largest metapopulation of non-social bees ever recorded. Several of these sites have remained populous for 50 years, longer than any other known bee nesting aggregation. The most populous nesting bed (1.5 ha) grew to 5.3 million nesting females (Fig. 7), at densities of up to 1000 nests/m2; it is the largest bee nesting aggregation ever recorded. Grower stewardship practices for sustaining their alkali bees include: nest site subirrigation, surface salting and weed removal, provision of adequate nearby alfalfa bloom, some parasitoid control, and insecticide use practices safe for bees. Failure to subirrigate was the sole cause of demise for alkali bee nesting beds during this study. This first-ever exhaustive landscape-level census for any non-social bee reveals that even amid intensive conventional agriculture, a gregarious native bee can be multiplied to vast numbers and its populations sustained for at least half a century.

Last Modified: 8/1/2014
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