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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With honeybee populations imperiled by the mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder, Florida residents should appreciate native bees for their role in the state’s environment and economy, say University of Florida researchers who will make presentations on the insects at this week’s Bee College.
Held March 11-12 at UF’s Whitney Laboratory in Marineland, the annual event includes sessions on native bees and enhancing habitats for them, said Jamie Ellis, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Now in its fourth year, Bee College is the state’s most extensive bee education event.
Many Florida crops depend on bees for pollination, including some citrus, beans, melons, squash, cucumbers, strawberries and blueberries, and native species perform some of the work. Nationwide, native bees pollinate crops worth an estimated $3 billion each year.
Native bees also pollinate ornamentals and indigenous plants. Now, with honeybee populations down, native pollinators need support from humans.
“There are ways to help by putting in habitat to attract native bees,” Ellis said.
Florida is home to more than 300 bee species, including some found nowhere else, said Glenn Hall, an associate professor in UF’s entomology and nematology department. He recently published a survey of Alachua County’s native bees in the journal Florida Entomologist.
At the Bee College, Hall will present an overview of the state’s bee families. Though it’s difficult for laypeople to recognize individual species in flight, some of the more distinctive common natives include Agapostemon splendens, a metallic green bee the size of a honeybee, leafcutter bees in the Megachile genus that are black with white stripes, and bumblebees.
About three-quarters of native species nest in the ground, he said. Homeowners can attract native bees to their yards by clearing surface debris from areas with sandy, hard-packed earth.
Jason Graham, a UF entomology doctoral student, will lead two workshops on building artificial nesting sites for species that nest above ground. They include wood “bee blocks” drilled full of holes, and clusters of bamboo or other materials.
Graham is experimenting with variables such as the inner diameter of the nesting cavities, height of the nests, and the material used, to determine what bees prefer.
He also plans to develop a native-bee education program for young people, and an outreach program to help home gardeners interested in native pollinators.
Native bees are particularly suitable for home gardens because they do not sting unless roughly handled, he said. The bee species that use artificial nests are solitary and are not defensive.
Katie Buckley, a UF entomology master’s student, and Jeanette Klopchin, a department staff member, will give a presentation on ways to enhance a garden to attract bees.
Some food crops will attract specific bee species, Hall said. For example, Xenoglossa kansensis, a squash bee that Hall was the first to find in Florida, prefers its namesake plant. Species in the genus Melissodes, called longhorn bees due to the males’ long, curved antennae, are believed to frequent watermelon patches.
Other favorite plants for native bees are the flowers coreopsis, gaillardia, aster, partridge pea and black-eyed Susan, and trees including willow, holly, redbud and cherry laurel.
Visit http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/honeybee/extension/bee_college.shtml for more information on Bee College.
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Jamie Ellis, 352-273-3924, email@example.com
Glenn Hall, 352-273-3962, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Graham, 352-263-9066, email@example.com
Jason Graham, an entomology doctoral student with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, replaces a bamboo tube in a native bee habitat, on the main UF campus in Gainesville – Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Graham is evaluating building methods to make the habitats more attractive to the insects. Native bees are usually solitary, unlike honeybees, but don’t mind nesting close to one another; they play an important role in pollinating food crops and other plants. (AP photo/University of Florida/IFAS/Tyler Jones)