All photos and text by Martin Holdrege
Bees are essential pollinators for many of our crops and vegetables. The number of domestic honey bee colonies has declined greatly during the past half century in the United States. Due to the diminished number of honey bees, more attention is being given to the largely unknown and overlooked wild native bees, such as bumble bees and sweat bees. Managing for native pollinators in a variety of ways may become an important aspect of sustainable agriculture. Researchers have found that on some diverse farms the majority of crop pollination is done by native bees and not honey bees. In New York State, there are approximately 423 species of native bees. For this reason we believe it is important to study wild bees in the context of farm environments. We studied native bees on five organic farms in Columbia County during 2007 and 2008. So far, we have found a total of 83 bee species on farms.
In addition we have collected bees in floodplain forests (forests along streams that are usually rich in wildflowers in early spring) in Columbia County during 2008. There is a great diversity and abundance of bees in these early spring forests a. Many of these native bees are only active adults during the spring and therefore would not be found during the summer and may rely heavily on these floodplain habitats for survival; conversely spring plants need them for pollination. Additionally, some bee species were found both in floodplain forests and on farms, possibly indicating that floodplain forests may be beneficial for crop-pollinating bees. We found 56 bee species in floodplain forests, with a total of 114 bee species in Columbia County.
The materials available from the links at the top of the page provide lists of the local bees identified so far in Columbia County, and the report entitled “Native Bees on Columbia County Farms and Floodplains” (written for Martin's high school senior project) summarizes our methods and results - and provides more pictures!. Much thanks goes to Sam Droege for general encouragement and help in identification.