Despite national decline, bumblebees thrive in county

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Jessica Beckham
Courtesy photo
Jessica Beckham, a doctoral student at the University of North Texas, has found that despite national declines, bumblebee populations remain strong in Denton County.

Although certain species of bumblebees are declining in some parts of the nation, a researcher from the University of North Texas said bumblebee populations in Denton County remain strong.

Jessica Beckham, a doctoral student, conducted field work at gardens across the county, sampling 450 bees, all belonging to two species that are declining nationwide.

“They’re both doing pretty well here, and the proportions are almost exactly the same as historical data, so that’s a good sign,” Beckham said.

The results of her study are being finalized before she publishes the research.

In addition, she’s now going to study bumblebees statewide, thanks to a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Her research is the first conducted in a long time in the area and state, she said, and she had to look at historical records to begin her research.

Beckham said she became interested in bees when she learned how the ecosystem depends on flowers being pollinated, and bees play a crucial role.

Not sure what to expect, she began to collect bees at gardens and put them in coolers where they fell asleep. She then cut off a toe from each specimen and released the bees.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, but the two most common species in North Texas and Denton County are the American bumblebee and the Southern Plains bumblebee,” she said. “Both of them are in decline nationwide and the American is one of the species in the greatest conservation need.”

Because bumblebees have big, hairy bodies and deliberately collect pollen, they are a great asset in gardens and tend to thrive there, Beckham said. Because Denton has several large gardens, populations are strong in the area.

“By maintaining these urban green spaces, we can mitigate some of the destruction,” she said. “One of the No. 1 causes for the decline is a loss of habitat because of humans ... with gardens, we’re mitigating the habitat loss we’re causing.”

Gene Gumfory, who oversees Shiloh Field Community Garden — the largest of its kind in the nation — said he knows bumblebees are helping the garden.

In his six years with the garden, he said run-ins with bees have been minimal, and they help pollinate.

“The real key is the flowering,” he said. “Where we have a lot of marigolds, azaleas and other kinds of flowers and blooming plants like squash, the bees are certainly attracted, and we have a good number of them.”

Although volunteers sometimes get scared or nervous seeing the bees, he said as long as the people ignore the bees, the bees will ignore them and continue to help the garden.

To learn more about Beckham’s research, visit jessicabeckham.weebly.com.

 

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.


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