It is as rare as hen’s teeth that I bring you a guest commentary, because I sincerely enjoy sharing my own stories of nature and critters with you.
The story below, however, is worthy of your reading because the writer and contributor, Jay Reti, director of the UCSB Santa Cruz Island Reserve, and researcher Dillon Travis put so much time, research and writing effort into a story of the native bees of Santa Cruz Island.
To learn more or subscribe to their newsletter, go to https://santacruz.nrz.ucsb.edu/email-subscribe. The rest of this column is their good work.
When I say bee, what do you imagine? For most of us, it’s probably the classic honeybee. Its visage is commonly seen decorating jars of honey, or beeswax candles.
But what we have come to know as the ubiquitous bee around town is in fact the non-native European honeybee. These bees were introduced to California in the 1800s by beekeepers, and became feral (meaning they left their cultivated hives and went off to build their own hives in the wild) because of the favorable climate and abundance of resources.
We actually have a rich variety of native bees —who evolved with our native flora — buzzing around the ecosystem. Researchers have been trying to understand the ways in which honeybees are, and have been, changing our landscape and impacting native pollinators.
One such researcher is Dillon Travis. He has spent many hours in the (literal) field counting bees and flowers. He measures both the variety and number of native pollinators and flowers on the mainland and Santa Cruz Island.
Why the comparison? Santa Cruz Island has no European honeybees. That means it’s an awesome place to learn about which kinds of native pollinators are at risk of competing with honey bees for floral resources like pollen and nectar.
With his research, Dillon seeks to provide more evidence that non-native honey bees negatively impact pollinator abundance and diversity.
So what are some of the ways European honeybees are different from our native bees?
For starters, they are eusocial, meaning they have a queen and several thousand workers. To the contrary, 99% of native bees are solitary and do not live in a hive, but instead in burrows they create in the ground.
Honey bees can also thermoregulate in their hives, meaning they can start visiting flowers early in the morning when it’s still too cold for most native bees to fly. Once they are in the field, honey bees visit many flowers, then return to their nest and communicate the location of rewarding resources to their nestmates using the “waggle dance.”
Since native bees are virtually all solitary, it is highly unlikely they communicate the location of resources with one another.
Dillon’s previous work has shown that honey bees remove 80-95% of the available pollen daily from abundant native plants, leaving little for native pollinators. If honey bees negatively impact native pollinators here in SoCal, then we can start looking for solutions so we can conserve the region’s biodiversity far into the future.
Dillon is continuing his research this year at the field station, and will be the guest speaker for the Santa Cruz Island Reserve during the UCSB Natural Reserve System Annual Fall Seminar Series.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.