Recent declines in commercial honey bee colonies, and potential impacts on crop production, have heightened attention on the plight of native pollinators. Although many groups of native pollinators remain understudied and poorly understood, there is increasing evidence of alarming declines in some species. For example, the once widespread rusty-patched bumblebee was recently listed as Federally Endangered, and significant declines of other North American bumblebees have been documented (Cameron et al. 2011).
The objective of the Xeric Grassland, Barren, and Woodland Pollinator Conservation Project is to improve the ability of Northeast states to implement cost-effective habitat management for the benefit of native pollinators and RSGCN that depend upon these priority habitat types. While there are many available vegetation monitoring protocols to build from, direct monitoring of pollinators is far more challenging. Many pollinator taxa, such as beetles and flies, are poorly understood, and monitoring is extremely labor intensive. Nonetheless, it is important to improve our ability to monitor declining pollinator taxa and begin to understand responses to habitat management. Pollinator monitoring for this project will be limited to day-flying Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and bees. Given cost constraints and challenges related to collecting baseline data for taxa that exhibit significant inter-annual variation, pollinator sampling may need to be limited to a subset of pilot sites and long-term monitoring frequency will be lower than for vegetation monitoring.
A standardized pollinator protocol was developed for the 2018 season of the Xeric Grassland, Barren, and Woodland Pollinator Conservation Project anticipated to improve the ability of Northeast states to implement cost-effective habitat management to benefit native pollinators and Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need that depend on these priority habitats. A network of twelve organizations (state, federal, and not-for-profit), representing eight states (VA, MD, NJ, NY, MA, NH, VT, ME) enrolled to participate in the first year of this project. The sites were located in seven ecoregions within the eastern United States. All participants received the necessary equipment to collect and mail bee specimens to a central lab at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to be processed and identified. Through a webinar, all participating sites were provided training on how collect bees using bee bowls (pan traps) and hand netting. Each site received a copy of the RCN pollinator protocol to assist in their collection efforts. An undergraduate student was hired as a summer intern to help process bees in the lab. Over the course of the season a total of 3237 bees representing 5 families, 25 genera, and 125 species have been identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible. Three species listed on State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAP) were collected. Baseline bee datasets developed from these surveys will help guide future treatment and management activities to create and restore xeric grasslands, barrens, and woodland communities.