Does wildfire create home sweet home for bees?

In case you haven’t heard, bees are in serious trouble all around the world. If you like to eat food, that’s a big concern.

Turns out, researchers with Oregon State University are also finding that with increased wildfire severity they are also noticing a higher abundance of bees.

I have to wonder if that higher abundance of bees would also be found on corporate and industrial timber lands, which are often sprayed heavily with a cocktail of various pesticides and herbicides. My guess is not.

Get the full scoop here. Below are some snips:

“We’re looking at a few different (habitat) characteristics. And one of the big ones is canopy cover. In the moderate-high and high fire severity categories, there’s pretty low canopy cover. So you get more flowering plants that come in,” Oregon State University researcher Sara GalbraithGalbraith says.

In these places where more than 50 percent of the canopy burned, it’s also warmer and there’s potentially more nesting habitat. These aren’t hive-dwellers; these bees look for mineral soil to burrow into.

“The story so far has been pretty straightforward,” she says, “in that we’re finding that with increased disturbance at our sites — so increased fire severity — we get higher abundance of bees. And we also get more bee species.”

“We have millions of acres of forests in Oregon that we’re managing. And at this point, we don’t have really good information about how those management practices influence bees. If I do ‘X’ how does that influence the number of bees and the species composition?” – Jim Rivers of the OSU Forest Animal Ecology Lab…

Study lead Sarah Galbraith is beginning to think about this possibility. She thinks there could be a critical link between native bees that live in forests and nearby farmland.

“By protecting our pollinators in the forest, we are potentially protecting our food security now and into the future.”

6 Comments

  1. ” … which are often sprayed heavily with a cocktail of various pesticides and herbicides.”

    I was speaking to a N. Idaho logger just yesterday. Our conversation turned to bark beetles, which the logging companies must try to control through slash mitigation. He said the most cost effective “treatment” they’ve found yet is just spraying the entire site down with diesel.

    Yup.

  2. Well golly – imagine that! I’m glad to hear this research is underway because as John Muir said long ago, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

    Talk of “landscape scale” management seems to be on the upswing and this is a great example of how we need to consider how a management action on one ownership can affect what happens on other lands within the travel distance of species that may be present in the area that’s being managed.

    Pollination is an ecosystem service that we’d do well to pay much more attention to given its essential nature for agricultural and non-agric. plant species.
    Thanks Matthew for posting this!

  3. I guess if low canopy cover caused by tree removal is good, then other things that remove trees might also be good. Maybe clearcuts are better for bees? Does anyone else remember Jerry Franklin’s “big messy clearcuts”?

    • Franklin’s “big messy clearcuts” — variable retention harvests with a focus on easing the deficit of early-seral habitat. Franklin and Johnson’s proposal aims at federal lands. Federal bees would be happy.

      But take a walk in an “industrial” clearcut, even one that has been sprayed, and you’ll find it messier and more bee-friendly than you might imagine. Well, at least until canopy closure….

  4. I’ve done a LOT of fire salvage logging projects. One thing that seemed consistent in many lightly-burned landscapes is an abundance of varied blooming plants, probably due to a change in soil pH, as well as adding some wood ash macro-nutrients to the soil.

    I doubt that high-intensity patches have as many flowers as a low-intensity burn. Trading owl habitats for flowers and snags doesn’t seem like a good idea. We know how to make some forests better than the poor condition they are currently in. Sadly, some people don’t want managed landscapes. (Of course, “management” doesn’t solely mean logging)

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