Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Buzz in the City: St. Louis University's Pollinator Project

Bees are extremely important to us and our environment because they are fabulous pollinators, giving us a wide array fruits, veggies, beautiful flowers and much more. When people think about bees most tend to focus on honey bees and large agricultural plots. However, the honeybee is just one species out of roughly 450 in Missouri, such as Agapostemon virescens, the metallic green sweat bee. Many people are beginning to consider community gardens as reliable sources for their produce. Bees and gardens are important in urban areas where the core is shrinking along with access to fresh produce because they have the potential to provide food security for the local communities. Unfortunately not much is known about bee communities, their pollination services and how they react to urban environments. This is where the lab of Dr. Gerardo Camilo comes in.

Our lab is looking at bee diversity within urban community organic food gardens. We have been conducting a baseline survey in order to figure out what species of bees may be at each garden. This is our lab’s first year sampling multiple gardens with three located on the north side of St. Louis city, including EarthDance, and three on the south side. EarthDance is our most unique garden being that it is the largest and that it has a very distinct surrounding habitat. We have sampled 80 species of bees total from all gardens and 36 species total at EarthDance with six of these species sampled exclusively at EarthDance!

Increased bee diversity within food gardens is important because many species have their own preferences for certain flowers, have certain ways of collecting pollen and may only be around for a short time each year. For example, the bumble bee uses what is called buzz pollination; when the bee lands on a flower it vibrates its wings in order to release the pollen. This method is beneficial to crops such as cherry tomatoes due to the way the flower is assembled, making it difficult for other bees to collect pollen and easy for bees that use buzz pollination. Luckily for those readers who enjoy cherry tomatoes, four species of bumblebee have been sampled at EarthDance like Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumblebee to the right.

We hope to use the information found in our survey to develop research questions and goals and to better understand how to provide for urban bee communities which will translate to a better understanding of how to best provide for people living in the urban core. Increase in bee diversity will lead to an increase in pollination services, leaving plants with bigger and better quality fruits and vegetables. There is potential to use bees and their services to transform these urban food deserts to flourishing food gardens.
(Interested in learning more about the Pollinator Project, or about bees? Contact Paige at
(Reprinted from EarthDance newsletter, Nov 4, 2015)

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