|Native bumble bees pollinate using a unique method called "buzz pollination."|
For fifty years, a 149 acre McMaster property sat on Lions Club road with a faded fence and invasive buckthorn so thick that you couldn’t see through it. Now, it’s flourishing with biodiversity.
The change began 2014, when the McMaster Biology department removed the buckthorn, conducted a controlled burn, and reseeded the property with 40 native species to create a tallgrass prairie. This is a type of Carolinian habitat with a stable community of grasses and wildflowers such as blazing star and bergamot. Carolinian prairies support a wide variety of wildlife, including bobolinks, deer, voles, and butterflies.
Sebastian Irazuzta is a 3rd year PhD student at McMaster looking at how bees recolonize native habitats. He is comparing changing bee populations between the McMaster prairie and a similar remnant prairie habitat, located on Hamilton Conservation Authority property on Jerseyville Road. Irazuzta says that most research that has been done on this topic has been done in a controlled laboratory setting with fewer species.
After surveying the McMaster property from 2014 to 2016, they’ve found close to 180 species of bees. “For all of Ontario we know that there are around 410 species. For this area on the Niagara escarpment, the only other sizeable research that has been done has been around Brock University… they found around 132 species.” Irazuzta tells us.
|Bee specimens from Irazuzta's collection show that native bees vary a lot in size.|
Laboratory research has shown that enhanced seed production is not only determined by frequency of visits, but by diversity of pollinators.
Certain pollinators are most efficient at pollinating certain flowers, because they use unique methods. For example, bumblebees use ‘buzz pollination’. They vibrate the flower so that pollen comes off more easily and sticks to the bee. High bee diversity means plants produce more high-quality seeds. This is important for crops since more seeds means more food production.
Bees are important to us, but loss of prairies is making it harder for bees to find a food source.
Our native bees have ancient relationships with Carolinian wildflowers. They contain nectar that our native bees have relied on for centuries.
Prairie habitats once covered 14% of Ontario, but they were the first habitat to be destroyed when settlers arrived. Grasses were easier to remove than forests, so prairies were set on fire to make way for crops. Tallgrass prairies quickly disappeared. “Now we’re down to less than 3% prairie habitat, but that number is actually deceiving” Irazuzta says. Most of the habitat is left in very small sections, often on road sides or railway side. “Once you drop below a critical size, it can’t sustain lot of species. Fragmentation is a huge issue for all types of habitats, but it really does affect prairies.” These fragmented prairies lead to extirpation of species they once supported.