Country Bee, City Bee
For some bee species, cities can provide a more welcoming habitat than the countryside. In fact, cities are emerging as important players in bee conservation. That’s the message of an article I stumbled upon in the online magazine Yale Environment 360.
The article, by Janet Marinelli, is entitled “Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations”. She cites a study that found the greatest bee declines in the United States have occurred in areas of intensive agriculture: the Midwest and California’s Central Valley.
At the same time, researchers have found surprisingly healthy bee populations in a number of North American and European cities. There is a growing trend toward pollinator-friendly gardening in public and private spaces, of which Chicago’s Lurie Garden is a notable example.
Creating urban habitat for bees is not as challenging as you might think, in part because both bees and people love flowers (though not for the same reasons). The abundance and diversity of bees is directly related to the abundance and diversity of flowers.
A new organization called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge was founded in 2015 as a partnership of garden, conservation and civic groups. So far the challenge has registered over 650,000 pollinator gardens in the US and Canada – all of which can be found on their remarkable map.
Nothing in this world is simple, however, and researchers are exploring a number of challenges related to creating urban habitat for bees. One issue is that cities tend to be more hospitable to generalist species – those that can forage on a wide variety of flowers.
Specialist bees, those that forage only on a single species or genus, are not so lucky. Similarly, urban gardens may be less hospitable to native bee species in general.
One answer to this problem is to greatly increase the use of native plants. An article on the website of the Virginia Native Plant Society notes that Willows (Salix), Redbud (Cercis canadensis), and Dogwoods (Cornus) are among the woody plants most used by native specialist bees. Many specialist bee species also forage on Sunflower (Helianthus), Goldenrod (Solidago), and Aster (Sympyotrichum) flowers.
Many native bee species also need bare ground for nesting. Personally, I find this to be a challenge because I HATE the sight of bare ground in the garden. The only bare ground I willingly incorporate into my garden are the shallow trenches used to mark the edges of beds and borders.
If you want to know more, go read the whole article. That’s all for now.