In the summer of 2018, Andrea Gruver, a master’s student at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University, was surveying bees in the Chicago metropolitan area. The section of Metra rail line that runs between the Garden and the downtown Clybourn station is an almost perfect gradient of urban development. So throughout the summer, Gruver and four young interns would climb aboard the train with their hand nets and pan traps to collect bees at eight different sites – areas immediately surrounding eight different train stations – along that stretch of the line.
At the more suburban stops, there were trees and flowers, parks and lawns – the sort of habitat in which you’d expect to find bees. At the more urban stops, the landscape was dominated by concrete and steel, which meant looking for bees in abandoned lots and on flowers growing between cracks in the pavement. However, by the end of the summer, Gruver and her team had collected 83 species and 2300 individual specimens across all the sites.
“We were actually quite surprised with how much we did see,” Gruver says.
One of her most exciting finds was a pair of rusty patched bumble bees in the Rogers Park neighborhood. But she found the biggest surprise of the summer at the Clybourn station: Megachile apicalis, a leafcutter bee not native to North America and never before documented in Illinois. And Gruver didn't just find one specimen; she found 30.
Very little is known about this bee. It’s not clear how it arrived in North America, much less downtown Chicago. Because it’s similar in nesting habits to M. rotundata, the non-native leafcutter that has been intentionally imported for agricultural purposes, it’s thought that apicalis may have hitched a ride in rotundata’s nesting tubes. Apicalis was first recorded in Virginia, questionably in 1883 but certainly in 1931. Since then it's been documented in numerous other states including Ohio, Michigan and Missouri. So it’s possible that apicalis may have crept in from one of those near-by locations. But if it had, you’d think Gruver would have also found apicalis all along the full gradient she was surveying. This bee is closely associated with spotted knapweed, an aggressive, non-native thistle-like plant that Gruver found only at the Clybourn site. She wasn’t sure how the plant made its own way to downtown Chicago, but it might also help explain how apicalis arrived.
Is it possible that these specimens were mistakenly identified? Gruver is highly confident in the identifications. She says apicalis has pretty specific characteristics that set it apart from rotundata, which is the bee it would most likely be confused with. And the identity of one specimen was confirmed by John Ascher through BugGuide.net.
So what should we make of the unexpected appearance of this non-native bee in a place where it’s never been seen before?
“I don’t know if we need to be too concerned now, because it doesn’t seem to be widespread and everywhere,” Gruver says. “But I do think we shouldn’t ignore it.”
Gruver recently published her apicalis findings. Her master’s thesis, “Big City Bees: investigating the effects of urbanization on bee communities in Chicago, IL”, is forthcoming.
(The Minnesota Daily) Using the University of Minnesota Insect Collection, a team of bee researchers at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is tracking and studying native bees in the hope of understanding how the insects have been impacted by the climate crisis. Because researchers do not have a comprehensive list of which bees are native to Minnesota, they do not know much about these insects.
(Twitter, Jose Montalva @josemmontalva) “Here a map with the #CitizenScience data (updated until 2019) for the invasive bumble bee Bombus terrestris. This map is focused on the Central region of Chile where the use of this species is high due to pollination services.”
(The Guardian) Native wildflower meadows will line the verges of all new large-scale road projects under an initiative by Highways England. The decision follows the success of projects like the Weymouth Relief Road in Dorset, where native wildflowers have thrived on chalk verges. The area is now home to half of the butterflies in the U.K., including the small blue, Britain’s smallest. The roadsides require minimal maintenance, and large sections have not been cut in 10 years since wildflower seeds were sown, which has also reduced costs.
(San Francisco Chronicle) The flatbed truck was laden with chickens and honey as Caroline Yelle sped away from her Vacaville apiary, away from the flames licking the ridgeline. The honey bees would have to stay behind. By the time she returned, more than half of her 700 bee hives were reduced to ashes. The surrounding hills, once thick with yellow star thistle where the bees gathered pollen, were stone gray and barren from the Hennessey Fire. The wildfires dealt yet another devastating blow to the all-important pollinator already facing myriad challenges, from mite infestations to widespread colony collapse.
(Capital Press) The Sacramento County Superior Court ruled last month that the state lacks the authority to list four types of bumble bees as endangered species. Environmental groups called the decision “deeply disappointing”; farm groups lauded it as a “huge victory”. But the ruling may not be the final word. The state may appeal the decision, and environmental groups say they plan to pursue alternative action.
(Twitter, Scott MacIvor @jscottmacivor) “We survey bumble bees in @RougePark and show links between flowers visited and bacteria communities in pollen loads. Bee-microbe-flower interactions need more attention!” The original paper.
(Phys.org, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) Bees and humans are about as different organisms as one can imagine. Yet despite their many differences, surprising similarities in the ways that they interact socially have begun to be recognized in the last few years. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, building on their earlier studies, have experimentally measured the social networks of honey bees and how they develop over time. They discovered that there are detailed similarities with the social networks of humans and that these similarities are completely explained by new theoretical modeling, which adapts the tools of statistical physics for biology. The theory, confirmed in experiments, implies that there are individual differences between honey bees, just as there are between humans.
(Twitter, Rufus Isaacs @msuberrybugs) “New monograph by Gardner & Gibbs illuminates the Western US Dialictus bees, providing essential species revisions and descriptions. A valuable #OA resource, including L. (D.) spivakae and minckleyi, honoring two leading U.S. bee-ple.” The original paper.
(Inside Climate News) Research published by Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment has found that pollinator-friendly solar can boost crop yields, increase the recharging of groundwater, reduce soil erosion and provide long-term cost savings in operations and maintenance. The research also found that by creating a cooler microclimate, perennial vegetation can increase the efficiency of solar panels, upping their energy output.
One More Thing…
This is brilliant! Old-school gaming graphics and aesthetics as new-school medium for project presentation. Bonus: scorpions! From Elisa~ @Minakokiss via Twitter.