Researcher inventories native bees at Umstead

(The following was submitted by April Hamblin, a graduate student at North Carolina State University.)

William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh is a place to relax and enjoy nature, but it’s also a place to ask questions about nature and try to answer those questions with science. As a graduate student at NCSU, I ask questions about how changes in our environment influences native bee populations.

NCSU graduate student April Hamblin gathers native bees at William B. Umstead State Park.
NCSU graduate student April Hamblin gathers native bees at William B. Umstead State Park.

There are over 500 species of native bees in North Carolina. Honey bees are non-native to America, originally from Europe. Most other bees in North Carolina are native and important because they are the most efficient pollinators. The reason honey bees are known for pollination is because they are managed at farms and other areas. Native bees also help pollinate agricultural areas, but are the main pollinators of natural environments. Native bees pollinate the berries for birds and backyard plants.

Since Umstead and 19 other parks and homeowners allow me to visit and collect these native bees, I can ask many scientific questions. How does temperature affect native bees? How does impervious surface – pavement or cement – affect native bees? How do flowers, bare ground and open areas affect them? And, how can we manage the environment to help the native bee populations?

To collect native bees, I put out florescent colored traps and also collect with a net. Another way to understand bees is to put out additional nesting resources. Most bees live in the ground, but many can live in hollow stems and reeds. These bees are too weak to chew through wood, so these materials make a great addition to any yard without risk of home damage.

Not only does studying native bees help me with my research, it also helps the park and other locations where I have collected. Umstead only had two bee species listed on the state parks’ Natural Resources Inventory Database before I collected here and they were the honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). Now, 20 more species have been added to the list and more may be collected this year.

It is important to document these species and others in the environment because the environment changes so much. In that way, someone in the future can perhaps use what we have learned today.

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