By Vivian Collings
A rare bumble bee breeding program reveals at-risk species at Head Lake Park in Haliburton.
Wildlife Preservation Canada recently conducted a field study at Head Lake Park in Haliburton on bumble bees around the Huntsville region as part of their Native Pollinator Conservation Program.
The study’s focus is to collect queens of the at-risk yellow-banded bumble bees to breed before populations are gone and to gain information about other declining bee species.
“While in the Haliburton region, the field crew found many bumble bees. Most were common species, but thankfully they also found a few yellow-banded bumble bees. We focus on this species in particular for our breeding program because they are closely related to other Canadian bumble bee species in decline, for example the rusty-patched bumble bee that hasn’t been found in Canada since 2009,” said Sarah MacKell, lead biologist for Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Native Pollinator Initiative.
MacKell explained that honey bee breeding programs like theirs are extremely rare internationally.
“We are the only program in Canada breeding declining bumble bee species for future release to increase wild populations and ultimately save species from extinction. This type of program is very rare, with only one release ever attempted for bumble bee species previously,” MacKell said.
Stacey Kinder was one of the field researchers for the Native Pollinator Conservation Program conducting the study at Head Lake Park. She began doing field research in Haliburton at the beginning of May, but the program began five years ago in both the Sudbury and Guelph areas.
“This is a very new initiative and very leading-edge. It seems that every bee species needs a certain environment to breed successfully, so that is what the program is researching. There are a lot of questions as to why one type of bee will make a nest in a certain place and one won’t,” she said.
Kinder said that Head Lake Park in Haliburton was chosen as a field study location because of the abundance of blossoming apple trees and dandelions. She explained their field study process at Head Lake Park included “watching the trees with our nets and catching the bumble bees that we saw. We placed each bee in a vile and put the viles on an ice pack so that we could determine what types of bees we found and how many. We release every bee besides the yellow banded bumble bees, which we are collecting for the conservation breeding program.”
Any bee besides the yellow-banded bumble bee was released back at the conclusion of their study, while a few of the yellow-banded bees were taken back for their breeding program.
“Our findings of the yellow-banded bumble bee are a great discovery for Haliburton because they are an at-risk species. Our goal is to successfully breed this type of bee so that they can be released back in higher numbers.”
Bumble bees are extremely important because specific native plants to the area, like wild blueberries, rely on them for pollination, and they are able to pollinate more effectively than other species.
“Bumble bees are special because they have evolved with plants here for eons. Honey bees won’t effectively pollinate certain plants as well as a bumble bee would.”
Kinder highlighted some ways that people can help bumble bees. The first is to educate yourself about what bumble bees look like and knowing why they are important.
She explained that bumble bees pollinate by shaking the base of a flower and allowing the pollen to collect on their bodies. This is called buzz pollination, and allows for more pollen to be spread.
Wildlife Preservation Canada also launched a website, bumblebeewatch.org, to allow anyone to provide information about declining bumble bee species throughout North America. Providing information about where certain bumble bees are found is very helpful to the Native Pollinator Conservation Program so that they can determine where species are naturally living and flourishing on their own.
The program also provides training for people to learn how to use survey techniques that professional researchers use to independently monitor bumble bees within their targeted locations.
“The other thing that is very important is planting native flowers and not raking gardens or mowing lawns until June [which] allows for insects living under dead leaves. It is actually more detrimental to gardens to remove [or] scrape away these insects because they can be very beneficial to garden plants,” Kinder said.
More information about Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Native Pollinator Initiative can be found at www.wildlifepreservation.ca.