Fuzzy questions: How do we define native vs. non-native bees?

Last week, I was talking with Kate LeCroy, a PhD Candidate at the University of Virginia in the Department of Environmental Sciences, about her recent paper on native Osmia declines in connection with the appearance of the non-native Osmia taurus. We got into a really interesting discussion about how to define and categorize native versus non-native bee species (not to be conflated with invasive species, which is a next-level consideration). What seemed like pretty clear boxes to draw around bees at the beginning of the discussion became decidedly less so by the end. Because, as is often the case with discovery, the more you learn about something, the more questions you ultimately have.

To begin with, here are the “official” definitions for both native and non-native species. They come from a 1999 U.S. executive order that created the National Invasive Species Council, and are used by U.S. government agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service.

“Alien species” (or exotic or non-native) means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem.

“Native species” means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.

On the surface, these definitions seem obvious (if not straight forward). But when you start poking at them with real world examples (like abruptly-changing mason bee populations in the mid-Atlantic states), fuzzy questions arise.

Here are three questions I currently have about how we draw the line between native and non-native bees, and some of the thoughts I received from experts in the field when I put the questions to them.

1. Are these the best definitions we have? Do they make sense?

The general consensus among the researchers who I reached out to is that, yes, these definitions make sense. As to whether or not they’re the best ones, that’s a different story.

Daniel Cariveau, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, says he struggles with these particular definitions. “What is meant by ‘historically occurred’ vs. ‘currently occurs’?” he points out. “We often do not have good records on whether a species might have occurred somewhere in the past.”

Instead, he says, consider the USDA NRCS definition for non-native plants: “A plant introduced with human help (intentionally or accidentally) to a new place or new type of habitat where it was not previously found.”

2. Is human intervention, human introduction, the key element in defining a non-native species?

The consensus is that human introduction is a key element.

“But this element of ‘human intervention’ is not sufficient by itself in defining what a non-native species is,” Kate LeCroy says. “There is also the ecosystem element.” Clearly defining what an ecosystem is – and how one is different from another – is essential for indicating a “new” place that a bee has been moved to.

3. At what point does a non-native species become a native species? Osmia cornifrons was introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s; it has since established wild populations. Does this now count as “historically occurring” and, therefore, becoming native?

All of the researchers agreed that non-native species do not become native.

“I’d say that at least in human timescales, there is no point at which a non-native species becomes a native species,” says Zach Portman, bee taxonomist in the Cariveau Native Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota. Non-native species that establish populations would be considered “naturalized” but, he says, they are absolutely not “becoming native”.

Several researchers referenced honey bees as an even better example. They’ve been in North America for roughly 400 years and have also established wild populations – but they’re not considered native.

Portman also presented another interesting example. The squash bee, Eucera (Peponapis) pruinosa, is a tricky case. Portman has seen it referred to as non-native because its current range is due, in part, to squash cultivation by indigenous people. However, he would consider the species native to North America for several reasons, particularly because its range expansion originated in Mexico.

“I do think that extremes are easy enough,” says Cariveau. “Bombus species are not native to New Zealand. Honey bees are not native to North America.” But what about bee species whose ranges expand, who migrate on their own, as a result of climate change?

Wouldn’t these bees also fit the definition of non-native because they are in a new place as a result of human actions?


A short vacation

Just a quick note to let you all know that the Bee Report and I will be taking a short vacation during the last two weeks of this month. Next week’s Bee Report will be the last one for 2020. We’ll return to your inboxes at the beginning of January 2021!


Conservation

Roads and power line corridors increases plant diversity – but not flower-visiting insect diversity

(Twitter, Riccardo Bommarco @BommarcoLab) “Linear infrastructure (roads and electrical transmission lines) can harbour much biodiversity. Now @julianadf_bio et al show that it also increases landscape-scale plant but not flower-visiting insect diversity”. The original document.

Possible first record of southern plains bumble bee in Minnesota

(Twitter, Elaine Evans @fuzzybumblebee) “First record of Bombus fraternus I am aware of for MN! Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer Regional Nongame Wildlife Specialist with @mndnr found surveying a restored prairie in far southern Minnesota”

Rusty patched bumble bee recovery strategies released

(Twitter, Jamie Strange @rufocinctus) “Interested in endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee recovery strategies? Our new report is out”. The original document.

Washington takes down Asian giant hornet traps but keeps watch

(E&E News) All Asian giant hornet traps in Washington state will be taken down by Dec. 23 in preparation for winter. The Washington State Department of Agriculture spokesperson said that Asian giant hornet workers and drones are expected to die off this winter, and the queens will find a spot to hibernate. Although the traps won't be in place, people should still report sightings to the department whether the hornets are dead or alive.


Policy/Law

Legal filing challenges EPA, pesticide industry push to keep pesticide on market

(Center for Biological Diversity) The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an opposition brief in their ongoing litigation challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of sulfoxaflor. The groups are opposing the request by the EPA and Dow Chemical to continue sulfoxaflor’s use across a wide range of landscapes. The brief asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reject the EPA’s request and immediately vacate the unlawful approval of the pesticide to protect the environment and some of the nation’s most endangered species. The agency’s own scientists have previously determination that sulfoxaflor is “very highly toxic” to bees.


Science

Honey bees use contagious and honest visual signal to deter attacking hornets

(ScienceDaily, University of California - San Diego) Evolution has equipped some honey bees with a potent defense mechanism against attacks from predators such as the giant Asian hornet. A signal from colony guard bees lets hornets know that their attack plans have been exposed, and also sends an alarm across the bee colony communicating that urgent reinforcements are needed due to the impending danger. The hornets can be deterred by the signal itself, but only if the honey bees honestly demonstrate that further attack is futile.

Honey bees paint animal poo on their homes to repel giant hornets

(Wired) Insects don’t come much cuter than the humble honey bee. Those fetching stripes, the “waggle” dance they do to tell each other where they’ve found nom-noms, that thing where they smear buffalo crap all over their hives. Researchers have recently shown that colonies heavily spotted with animal poo repel the giant hornet Vespa soror, a close cousin of the infamous Vespa mandarina or Asian giant hornet.

Good news for honey bees, according to 150-year-old museum specimens

(Phys.org, Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution) Given the dramatic loss of honey bee colonies in the past 50 years, scientists have speculated that loss of genetic diversity among honey bees may be contributing to further losses their populations. A new study provides evidence that disputes this theory, suggesting that loss of genetic diversity may not be among the long list of threats to bee survival.

Here’s what happens when a bee stings you directly in your eyeball

(Ars Technica) There are precious few things that could truly make 2020 worse than it already is. But a rare bee sting right to the eyeball might be one of them. Doctors published an image of just such an uncommon ocular impaling. The image also included a brief report of the patient’s condition and recovery.

Fungus commits floral fraud to fool insects into spreading it

(USDA ARS) The spores of some fungi can linger in the environment for months or years just waiting for something to spread them elsewhere, like a gust of wind, falling rain or a passing insect or animal. Not so with Fusarium xyrophilum. Rather than passively waiting for its spores to be carried off, F. xyrophilum transforms itself into colorful, petal-like structures that mimic the yellow flowers of its host plant, likely tricking pollinators such as bees to land on them. And instead of a pollen meal, visiting insects get a face full of spores before flying off.

The wild bees of Morocco

(Twitter, Zootaxa updates @Zootaxa) “Monograph The wild bees (#Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of Morocco was published”. The original document.

Charles Darwin was right about why insects can lose the ability to fly

(EurekAlert, Monash University) Most insects can fly. Yet scores of species have lost that extraordinary ability, particularly on islands. Charles Darwin knew about this wing loss habit of island insects. His position was simple: If you fly, you get blown out to sea. Those left on land to produce the next generation are those most reluctant to fly, and eventually evolution does the rest. New research shows Darwin was right.

A review of malaise traps

(Twitter, Michael Skvarla @mskvarla36) “Want to know about Malaise traps?! Well lucky you, a review I wrote has just been published… And it’s #OpenAccess to boot!” The original document.


One More Thing…

At the intersection of bees and raptors lives the honey buzzard. Two kinds, the Oriental and the European. “A large raptor... True to its name, this species is a raider of wasp and bee nests, although it prefers bee and wasp larvae over their honey.”