June 2021 Newsletter
the power of PLACE
Bee-you-ti-ful study of bees
Melittology, the bee-you-ti-ful study of bees, may seem like an obscure subject. However, one-third of the calories that humans eat come from plants which are pollinated by insects and animals, with bees being a major pollinator, alongside butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds, and many other types of pollinators. Plants can also pollinate themselves or rely upon the wind. But breakfast would be less cheerful without pollinators; our oatmeal might lack fruit and we might be drinking water instead of coffee or orange juice.
The absence of honeybees has meant that the Gunnison Basin, and Gothic in particular, has long been a mecca for pollination and bee biologists. There are approximately 4,000 native bee species in North America (and more than 20,000 worldwide). However, once honeybees traveled to North America with colonists in the 1600’s they began disrupting native pollinator communities. With long winters and cold temperatures, honeybees never established themselves in the Gunnison Basin. That is great for residents and visitors to the Gunnison Basin since honeybees are a poor substitute for native bees in servicing many of our native wildflowers. It is also great for scientists that want to understand native pollination systems.
Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL
Jessica Forrest, PhD
Busy with bees
Bees are truly beautiful. At least they are to Dr. Jessica Forrest. And she’d love for you to appreciate their beauty, too.
Yes, bees are becoming more popular as more people understand their pollination superpowers and importance to agriculture. But if you mention bees, what comes to mind for most people are honeybees. And they aren’t even native to North America. Yet we have 4,000 species of wild bees in our continent, and people know very little about them. Even scientists have a lot to learn about bees, including basic information like where they nest and what they eat.
“We have this wildly amazing diversity of bees,” Jessica says, “but people don’t know them. Most people don’t think beyond honeybees.”
That’s why Jessica and her students come all the way from Ottawa, Canada, where she’s a professor at the University of Ottawa, to study bees at RMBL. Colorado has bees in abundance, over 900 species documented. Too, the elevation gradient at RMBL acts as a proxy for climate change, with higher elevations standing in for the cooler climates of the past.