Pollinator assemblages in Southeast prairies and sandstone prairies biologically unique landscapes
June 2009 - June 2015
The Southeast Prairies Biologically Unique Landscape (BUL) is part of the Southeast Nebraska Flagship Initiative, a partnership that includes The Nature Conservancy, Northern Prairies Land Trust, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The implementation of Flagship Initiatives—including that in the Southeast Prairies BUL—follows from the Nebraska Legacy Plan to implement a proactive approach to conserving non-game wildlife and biological diversity in an adaptive management framework. The overall goal is to determine how to most effectively and efficiently manage prairies while maintaining critical plant-insect relationships indicative of system functioning. This project aims to evaluate the current and potential viability of ecological systems within priority landscapes. It began as a pilot study in 2011 conducted by Bethany Teeters in which the bee assemblages were compared between extremely isolated prairie fragments and large, well-connected fragments. This was a continuation of Chris Wood’s work in which habitat factors that influence the structure of the pollinator community in the southeast prairies were examined. His goal was to determine which factors have the greatest impact on abundance and species richness in tallgrass prairie fragments. As most remnant prairie fragments are privately owned, this knowledge will be useful when approaching landowners about management techniques that benefit both agriculture and prairie conservation. After all, the majority of angiosperms are dependent upon pollinators for reproduction, including prairie forbs. Understanding population viability for various pollinator taxa and how that status differs across the landscape will help improve land management strategies that support conservation efforts. Research currently focuses on bees as a key insect group that provides an important ecosystem service: pollination. In 2012, comparisons of bee species richness, diversity, and abundances were made between the dominant grassland types in the southeast: remnant prairie or haymeadow, properties enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and grazed pastures. These grasslands were evaluated as potential bee habitats based on floral resource availability. Nearly 6,000 individuals were collected over the season which were identified and sorted into functional groups. Future research will focus on questions of habitat connectivity in this landscape and other habitat factors that may help explain the assemblages and distribution of species. Chris and Bethany are currently combining species lists from the past few years of collection to identify and document new records for the area and the State of Nebraska. Such documentation is important for monitoring species distributions and determining changes in those distributions over time, especially if they correspond to changes in local or regional climate. The overall goal of all the work in this area is to evaluate the functioning of ecosystem services and identify important factors that influence the pollinator community in this landscape. Such information will be valuable for making appropriate land management and conservation recommendations.