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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Forage and Range Research » Research » Research Project #443314

Research Project: Benefits for Bee Health and Diversity from Drought-Tolerant Plantings (“Bee Pasture”) for Drought-Stricken Areas in the West

Location: Forage and Range Research

Project Number: 2080-21500-002-017-T
Project Type: Trust Fund Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 6, 2022
End Date: Dec 30, 2025

The lack of floral resources, particularly on dry/harsh disturbed rangelands is frequently found in the western U.S. in association with Conservation Reserve Plantings (CRP). In addition, many geographical regions traditionally used for pollinator plantings are now experiencing increased temperatures and reduced precipitation associated with climate change, thus affecting floral resources. For honey bee keepers, this is of a major concern. Increasing “bee pasture” for honey bees and other bee species is a major need; critical to this need is getting the plantings to establish under drought conditions. There is potential to expand these plantings to other agricultural areas as growers make decisions to remove land from crop production given lack of irrigation water. This proposal seeks to understand the benefit of the drought-tolerant pollinator planting for bee diversity and health/reproduction of honey bees, bumble bees, and solitary bees. Additional experiments will be performed to try to manipulate soil moisture through wind/snow breaks via plantings and mechanical breaks. The floral bloom of the plantings will be extended by adding additional floral species and testing the ability of the species to establish and persist under drought conditions. Objectives: 1) Can a native/introduced pollinator seed mix be modified to have bloom throughout a season from spring to fall? 2) Do wind/snow breaks offer added moisture for pollinator plants and aide in the establishment of floral resources? 3) Are the floral resources and plants in the planted wind/snow breaks of benefit to pollinators, both for nesting and for floral resources? 4) Can the pollinator plantings provide floral resources to attract, support, and benefit different bee species?

Five different sites in Utah and Idaho will be planted with a modified seed mix that the Forage and Range Research Unit has demonstrated to be drought-tolerant and able to establish, persist, and provide bloom for bee species. Added floral species will hopefully create bloom in late summer and fall to provide additional benefit to bees. An experiment will be set up to test the impact of a wind/snow break on the soil moisture, plant establishment, floral bloom, and attractiveness to bees. The treatments will be: 1) No wind/snow break, 2) A constructed wooden snow fence supported by fence posts, 3) A planted wind/snow fence composed of shrub/tree species that offer benefit to pollinators via floral resources and nesting, and 4) A combination of the constructed and planted wind/snow breaks. On each site each treatment plot will be replicated four times. Planting will occur in the fall of 2022, with evaluation of plant establishment, floral bloom, and endemic pollinator surveys the first year. The second year is anticipated to have greater bloom and data will be collected on the plant establishment, floral bloom, and endemic pollinator surveys. Surveys and evaluations will be made at different points in each plot, relative to the position of the wind/snow break. The surveys will be repeated the third year. For all three years, drone and satellite images will be made over the season. Satellite images will be used to estimate the impacts of the wind/snow breaks on capture of snow drifts that may provide added moisture to the plantings. The third year will ask how the floral blooms support the growth and reproduction of sentinel colonies of honey bees, bumble bees, and seeded solitary bees. Trap nests for endemic cavity nesting bees will be used to evaluate their reproduction. All bee and plant species in the plots will be identified to species. Voucher specimens for the bee species will be deposited in the U.S. National Pollinating Insect Collection associated with the Pollinating Insect Research Unit.