A couple of months ago, I was invited to chat about my research with Ian Perry, who runs a radio/podcast interview program (Keeping Green) at the University of Calgary’s CJSW. Ian is interviewing people who are studying ecology in western Canada. He has a smooth, smooth voice and a gifted interview style. So, we had a rambling chat, mostly about bees, and loosely focused on my research in bee ecology at the University of Calgary.
What is my work about? Well, I hope that you will listen to the interview, which is linked below. Briefly, I’ve been looking at the effect that honey bees in the city of Calgary have on native bees in the city. Backyard beekeeping has grown exponentially here. (We had 127 hives in 2008, about 1300 in 2018 – a ten-fold increase!) Maybe all those imported bees are harming the local bees?
Some neighbourhoods are probably overstocked with honey bee hives. If that’s the case (my research results are still pending), there may be some negative impact on bumble bees and solitary bees. To understand the issue, we (my summer students and I) set up hundreds of empty bumble bee and solitary bee houses around the city to monitor the success of wild bees occupying those boxes and developing nests when honey bees are around.
In addition to monitoring all those wild native bees, the work has involved gathering pollen from honey bee and bumble bee colonies, collecting 240 samples of pollinators in biodiversity traps set around the city, extensive mapping (and field scouting) of floral resources, and other details that I will write about another day. It’s a big project. I was lucky to have a good team helping me.
Hear the interview here. Or click below.
Hello Ron, I listened to the interview and was wondering what kind of bumble bee nest boxes you placed in Calgary backyards and were they used? To date, the only success I have had with bumble bees using artificial structures was inadvertent when a queen started a colony in a flicker nest box.
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Hi, thanks for the note. Hope you enjoyed the interview.
The bumble bee settlement part of our study involved 74 backyards scattered around the city with two empty wooden boxes (which we built) attached to fences or trees, roughly one metre above the ground. That means we put up 148 empty domiciles (boxes). One disappeared. One fell down in a storm. Of the 146 remaining, 10 were investigated, but abandoned. However, 31 others were fully occupied by queens who built nests. 31 out of 146 is 21%, which is about normal occupancy in our area. A few of the nests ended the season with over 300 cells (honey pots and pupae cells), but most were around 50 cells.
Since you haven’t had success with yours, it might be a matter of time. At 20% per year, that might mean just one occupancy every five years. If you hope to have bumble bees stay in your nest, you might just copy the flicker nest box design, which has proved successful. Different species have different needs and your area has at least one species that liked the dimensions and hole-entrance size of the bird nest. Here’s a link to a paper that one of my profs wrote some years ago about building bumble bee domiciles, if you want to see what we built.
Here is one of our domiciles in use:
I will eventually give details of this work here, on this blog. The data are not yet analyzed, but will be this winter.
Thank you for the link to the paper describing how to build bumble bee domiciles. I am going to modify my design and try again. I enjoyed your interview and look forward to learning of the results of your research.
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Good piece, sounded pretty comfortable. I’ve wondered myself about the impact my bees have on native species, I have often seen my bees feeding on the same plant species as wild bees, particularly bumblebees. As well, I have seen, as I’m sure you have, bumbles feeding on non native plants, particularly thistle in the fall, but also clovers. Seems like the overall effect would be hard thing to tease out. With the crazy wet weather we had last summer, i wonder how the ground nesters are going to make out this year.
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Hi, we don’t have an answer yet, and when/if we do, it might be more relevant to our particular area. But we are learning what we can.