The UK’s first citizen science project focusing on the nesting ecology of ground nesting solitary bees has revealed that they nest in a broader range of habitats than previously thought.
In the UK, ground nesting solitary bees account for approximately 52% of all bee species. Despite being hugely important pollinators of crops, trees and wildflowers, relatively little is known about this group of bees, particularly when compared to their more famous cousins the bumblebees and honeybees. In particular, very little is known about where ground nesting solitary bees choose to nest and why. In fact, in the 25 years prior to this study only one academic paper had been published from the UK containing data about their nest sites.
This research gap is largely a result of the difficulties associated with locating solitary bee nests, and the time required to collect good quality data. To address this, researchers based at Anglia Ruskin University called on the public to help gather important data on the nesting ecology of four different solitary bee species: the tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva), the ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria), the yellow legged furrow bee (Halictus rubicundus), and the ivy bee (Colletes hederae). The study chose to focus on these species because they nest in aggregations, making them easier to spot.
The public responded by reporting almost 400 active nesting sites of the four target bee species to the projects website.
The solitary bees studied were found to be nesting across a broad range of habitats. Distinct preferences were also discovered between species. For example, 82% of tawny mining bee nests were on flat ground and 68% were in at least partial shade. Meanwhile 74% of ivy bee nests were fully exposed to sunlight, and they were equally at home on flat or sloped ground.
One of the study’s authors Dr Thomas Ings commented:
“While there is a lot of excellent work being done on increasing the availability of floral resources for solitary bees, we also need to ensure that suitable nesting resources are available in both urban and rural landscapes.”
“By enlisting the general public we have been able to increase awareness of solitary bees and at the same time collect valuable information on nest site characteristics. We have found that the species in our study have the capacity to tolerate a range of environmental conditions, although each species was more frequently associated with a particular set of site characteristics. For example, the tawny mining bee was associated with flat ground in shady sites, while the ivy bee was most commonly found nesting in unshaded sites.”
“This information on nesting behaviour is highly valuable because it puts us in a better position to provide advice to land owners on how to manage their land sympathetically in order to protect these important, ground-nesting solitary bees. Understanding solitary bee nesting requirements and how to sympathetically manage land for them is especially important in light of the severe declines solitary bees and other pollinating insects have suffered in the UK over recent decades.”
The full open access journal article can be read here:
Maher, S., Manco, F., Ings, T. C. (2019). Using Citizen Science to Examine the Nesting Ecology of Ground-nesting Bees. Ecosphere, 10(10):e02911. 10.1002/ecs2.2911.