Blue Ridge Bumble Bee Megatransect
In July 2015 volunteers helped study some of the most familiar and important pollinators in the eastern United States. Download the following spreadsheet containing identification of bumble bees collected by participants of the megatransect. Megatransectdata.xlsx
Bumble Bees are some of the most important pollinators of wildflowers, like azaleas and mints, and agricultural products, like blueberries and tomatoes. Many native species have experienced a sudden and drastic decline in population, now absent from most of their previous range. The some of the remotest parts of the eastern US are crossed by the roads through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. If some of these declining bee species are holding on anywhere, this would be the place. With the help of volunteers, the Bumble Bee Megatransect will explore the distribution of over a dozen different bumble bee species and identify any refuges where rare species may still be surviving.
Appalachian State University graduate student Eric Rayfield and his professor, Dr. Jennifer Geib, are also looking at the genetic diversity of bumble bees. Bumble Bees form social colonies in which there is one breeding queen and many non-breeding workers. The goal of this colony is to produce as many breeding individuals as possible, in the form of new queens and males in the fall. The new queens will then fly to a new area, or disperse, away from their home colony to mate, find a place to hibernate for the winter and begin her own new colony in the spring. When this queen disperses, she is moving genes from her home colony to a new population of other colonies and increasing genetic diversity which can be beneficial to a population. With increased genetic diversity, a population of bees would be better equipped to handle environmental stresses such as drought or disease. However, if a population of bees is not receiving many new queens from outside populations, they will suffer from inbreeding and lower genetic diversity which can cause the population to dwindle. Determining how queens disperse and bring new genes into an area is a great concern to bee conservationists.
During the Bumble Bee Megatransect, they will be examining how landscape features such as elevation, wind, or sunlight affect the movement of genes between bumblebee populations. They will do this by analyzing the genes of the bumble bees caught by volunteers and comparing populations to each other to see how similar or different they are. By comparing the connections between populations across the landscape, we can learn what habitats may facilitate gene flow and which provide barriers. If we know what barriers are preventing bumble bee populations from exchanging genes, we could possibly implement practices to connect these populations and help maintain population connectivity which will help lessen the decline of bumble bees.
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