While clearing invasive plants at a Nature Preserve in Avon, a species of bee never seen in Indiana before has been detected. The discovery of the bee is particularly exciting as, over the past decade, there has been a fall in bee numbers across the country. Loss of natural habitats and the use of pesticides have contributed to this decline. As bees play a key role in our ecosystem and crop development, improving local environments and encouraging them to visit plants in fields and gardens is vital.
Paying Attention to Pollinators
There are over 200 native bee populations in Indiana, some of which, no doubt, will have been spotted over the summer in Indianapolis during the third annual Pollinator Count. Projects like this help to raise awareness of pollinators and how important they are to local ecosystems and the food that we eat. By making a few simple changes in the garden, such as planting native flowers, reducing the use of pesticides, and providing shelter in a small pile of untreated wood, hard-working, native bees are encouraged to keep visiting.
Pollinating Indiana’s Crops
Although Indiana’s most valuable farm produce, corn and soybeans, are wind or self-pollinating, other important crops like tomatoes rely on wild bees for pollination. Indeed, tomato farmers whose plants receive regular visits from bumble bees may have 50% of tomatoes grow twice as large as normal. Unlike honey bees, the wild bees are able to access the pollen hidden in anthers in their flowers.They use a method called sonicating which involves biting the anthers and then buzzing against them until they release their pollen. Up until recently it was believed that this was a learned behavior but a recent study shows that it is in fact an instinctive ritual. Apart from tomatoes, the most commonly grown fruit in Indiana is the apple. As an important source of food for bees, trees are often overlooked, however they provide thousands of attractive, pollen-filled flowers, and rely on birds and insects for cross pollination.
Though the nation’s bee population has been in decline, discovering a native bee new to Indiana, and raising awareness of the importance of wild bees, offers hope for sustaining numbers and the quality of the crops that they pollinate. By keeping a check on pollinators and removing threats from outdoor spaces, Indiana offers a welcoming environment in which bees can thrive.
Post contributed by Lucy Wyndham