Ground nesting bees 2019

In 2019 Jennifer Ison tracked and sampled ground nesting bees in Exp. Plot 2 with Miyauna Incarnato, Avery Pearson and Ren Johnson from the College of Wooster. Bees were captured, refrigerated, fluorescent dyed, released and tracked to their nests. Several bee nests were located and shot with GPS Darwin. One was excavated and brought back to Wooster for study.

Job BEENESTS_20190730_DARW contains 13 points shot of nests and their surrounding plants. The job is backed up in three locations:




2018 Update: Ground Nesting Bees

The tallgrass prairie once occupied vast expanses of land across America’s heartland. Today, it is among the most threatened and least protected habitats in the world. Each year, parts of the tallgrass prairie continue to be lost to agriculture and development making the conservation and protection of this system of utmost importance.

Native bees are the most abundant and most important pollinators in the tallgrass prairie. The bees that we study for this project are called solitary bees. They are different from honeybees in that they are native to North America. They are also different from bumblebees (where many genera are native to North America) in that they do not form a colony and build their nests individually.

We know a lot about the kinds of things bees like to eat (pollen and nectar) and their foraging behavior. However, most solitary bees spend the majority of their life in their nests, yet we know so little about what conditions are suitable for them to build their nests. In the tallgrass prairie, over 80% of bees are solitary, ground-nesting bees. We have a lot to learn about the kinds of habitat suitable for them to build their nests in.

We know some things about what ground-nesting bees may like. Evidence suggests they might like sandy soil, bare ground, and well-drained, south-facing slopes. However, we don’t know what bees in the tallgrass prairie may like for their nesting habitat conditions as most of these studies have been done across other ecosystems.

Much of the prairie has been changed from its original condition. We call the history of this condition “land-use history.” I am interested in how the history of the land may determine where bees build their nests in the ground. Some common types of land use history are remnant prairies which are pristine habitats with untilled soil, prairie restorations which are plantings of prairie plants with disturbed soil, and old fields which are fields leftover from agriculture that may have been tilled or grazed.

Using emergence traps, we moved traps everyday for a total of 1,440 across the season. We caught 110 ground-nesting bees in traps across 24 sites this summer. I placed traps at 8 different locations, each with three different land types at each location (remnant prairie, prairie restoration, and old fields). We found that the most bees nest in the prairie (40), while restorations and old fields have the same numbers of nesters (35). While land use is not good at determining bee nests, we did find that the location and land use when combined are both important in determining where bees nests.

I also placed pan traps at all 24 sites and caught 564 bees. Pan traps were colored blue, white, and yellow to attract a diversity of foraging bees at every site. We will use these bees to compare the foraging and nesting communities at each site.

I also measured many microhabitat characteristics of the soil and vegetation at some of the traps. We found that bare ground is a good predictor of where bees build their nests. We also found that the soil texture, especially the amount of silt and sand help determine where bees nest. A diverse plant community with lots of native plants is also a good predictor for bee nests.

We still have a lot more work to do to determine where bees are building their nests. Our next steps are to identify all the bee specimens caught in ground nests and in pan traps. Once specimens are identified, we can learn more about the species specific results for ground nesting bees.

Two of the tents used to capture bees out in the field

Start year: 2018

Location: Hegg Lake Wildlife Management Area restoration, Riley, Aanenson, East Elk Lake Road, and other non-project sites

Overlaps with: Pollinators on Roadsides

Physical specimens: 674 bees were brought back to CGB and are currently being pinned and photographed by Mike Humphrey. Soil samples were collected from every location where bees were caught + a random sample from other traps.

GPS points shot: We shot points for all trap locations. Ask/email Kristen for this data.

Products: This work is part of Kristen’s Master’s thesis

Previous team members who have worked on this project include: Anna Vold (2018)

Thanks so much to help from Team Echinacea 2018, especially Anna Vold who helped measure soil texture. Also many thanks to Emily Staufer from Lake Forest College who processed bees from HFW, and Mike Humphrey who has pinned some bees from this project.

ESA Poster: Where do bees build their nests? The influence of land use history and microhabitat on nest presence of solitary, ground-nesting bees

Hi Flog! I am at ESA this week presenting results from my Master’s Thesis work on solitary, ground-nesting bees. Check out my poster below!

Check out this link for more updates on this experiment.


Gretel Kiefer

Augochlorella striata (aurata), photographed by Gretel Kiefer.

This is a guide to the bees that visit Echinacea at our study site in Minnesota during the summer field season. The Echinacea Project has collected over 900 specimens and 43 species of native bees. Each page of this guide includes a description of a native bee taxon to be used for quick identification (as well as the link to DiscoverLife to be used as a tool in more accurate identification) and life history traits such as nesting and foraging habits. Also included are the common name of a genus, the number of species and specimens The Echinacea Project possesses of these genera and species, and pictures and videos from the Echinacea Project Youtube of the bees collecting pollen on Echinacea in the field. The pages are organized by both family and genus, and information on individual species within a genus are included where we have that information.

These solitary, generalist bees show great variation in both their physical traits and their life history characteristics. They range in size from 3 mm to over 20 mm long. In shape, bees like the small, black, ant-like Lasioglossum can appear completely unrelated to the larger more hairy Halictus, though they are both part of the Sweat Bee family, Halictidae. (Mader et al. 230, 237)

Furthermore, each genus nests and forages differently, from solitary to semi-social to communal, from digging their own nests in the soil to nesting in existing holes in wood or plant stems. Variation among nesting patterns can even be seen within genera. A solitary bee constructs a nest of her own or uses a nest in an existing crevice and forages solely for herself and her brood. (Mader et al. 27) Unlike solitary bees, groups of eusocial bees contain certain caste roles, in which each individual has his or her own job to help the group survive. In native bees, this is generally seen among a series of generations of one lineage, in which the founding bee serves as the queen, her offspring serve as the female workers, and the male drones wait to mate with the new queens in the fall. Communal bees nest together, but generally show solitary behavior, a single member providing only for her own brood. However, cooperation among communal bees has been studied, such as working together to build the nest and certain bees serving as guards at the entrance. (Mader et al. 35-45)

Gretel Kiefer

Andrena, photographed by Gretel Kiefer.

In contrast to solitary bees, social bees such as honeybees and bumblebees are attracted to the nectar stores of native plants, which they use to create energy-rich honey for their offspring. Social bees are not visitors to Echinacea on our study site, perhaps because they are less likely to visit plants with less bountiful nectar, such as Echinacea. Solitary bees do not produce honey and are attracted to a wide variety of plants for their pollen, which they bring back to their nests to feed their larvae.

Foraging habits are more or less consistent among the collected native bee specimens. The vast majority are generalists, meaning they visit many species of flowering plants, imposed by their tongue length and size (Mader et al. 32).

The Echinacea Project has conducted several studies on pollinators, including one published in 2010, under the direction of Stuart Wagenius and Stephanie Pimm Lyon, which studied pollen limitation vs. pollinator limitation in Echinacea. Results showed that, in both years of the study, bee visitation actually increased with isolation of individual plants and did not vary significantly with population size. As expected, plant isolation increased pollen limitation and lowered seed set. This means that pollen receipt limits reproduction in Echinacea but pollinator visitation does not. The hypothesized causes of pollen limitation that are consistent with these surprising results include: incompatibility, pollen quantity, the identity and density of local co-flowering plants, and the synchrony of flowering. (Wagenius and Pimm)

Links to Bee Families:



Andrenidae – Andrena





Apidae – Apis, Bombus. Ceratina, Melissodes





Hylaeus modestus


Colletidae  – Hylaeus






Halictidae Agapostemon, Augochlorella, Halictus, Lasioglossum




Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 2.30.45 PM


Megachilidae – Coelioxys, Heriades, Megachile



And for further use in identification, there is a helpful guide for Echinacea-visiting bee identification, created by team member Stephanie Pimm.


Mader et al. Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees andButterflies. 2011. The Xerces Society.

Wagenius, Stuart and Pimm Lyon, Stephanie. “Reproduction of Echinacea angustifolia in fragmented prairie is pollen-limited but not pollinator-limited”. Ecology, 91(3), 2010, pp. 733–742. 2010. The Ecology Society of America.

Photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Melissodes, photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Andrena, photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Megachile, photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Photographed by Gretal Kiefer

Augochlorella aurata, photographed by Gretel Kiefer

Bee on Echinacea, by J. Pfeil.

Bee on Echinacea, by J. Pfeil.

2019 Update: Pollinators on Roadsides

The diversity and abundance of bees native to the tallgrass prairies of Minnesota are declining; one potential reason is changes in how land is used and managed. Native bees provide vital pollination services to our native prairie plants as well as agricultural crops. It is important to understand the factors involved in the decline of pollinators so they can be combatted and our plants be protected. In summer 2019, the focus of the Pollinators on Roadsides project was to collect bees using yellow pan traps and to take into account the burn history of the collection sites. We investigated the burn history of the collection sites to compare the bee collections from the last three years and determine if there is a relationship between burning and pollinator community composition. Thanks to local government records, inquiry with private land owners, and observation of recent burn evidence we discovered which of the 38 sites had a history of prescribed burning.

In summer 2019 Shea Issendorf and John Van Kampen collected a total of 422 bees from 38 yellow pan traps placed six times throughout the field season (June 28, July 11, July 18, July 31, August 8 and August 19). Trap locations include different land types such as agriculture, restored prairie and developed land. We determined the burn history of the trap locations in the last three years (2019, 2018 and 2017,) and whether the burns occurred in the spring, fall or both. We stored the bees in in vials of ethanol in freezers until they were pinned by Shea Issendorf and Mike Humphrey. We found that a lunchbox with ice packs could comfortably hold all the vials from a collection date for transportation from the field to the CBG.

The design and goal of this experiment is based on the original 2004 experiment by Wagenius and Lyon. They studied the relationship between characteristics of land and the abundance and diversity of pollinators. Using the data that came out of 2004, the reboot in 2017, and the continuation throughout 2018 and 2019, we observe how pollinator abundance and diversity has changed. With this valuable evidence of declining native pollinator communities, there is opportunity to change the way in which natural lands are used and how surrounding lands are treated (such as through burning, herbicide application and fragmentation).

Yellow pan traps resemble the yellow flowers of the Asteraceae family that native bees are attracted to.

 Start Year: 2004, rebooted 2017

Location: Roadsides/ditches around Solem Township. GPS coordinates for each trap are in a Google Map which Stuart Wagenius can share as needed.

Overlaps With: Ground nesting bees

Data/Materials Collected: 386 bee specimens collected; currently dried, pinned and stored at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Specimens will be classified by Mike Humphrey before being sent to the University of Minnesota for further identification

Pinning records:

~Dropbox\teamEchinacea2019\sheaIssendorf\YPT 2019 Si\Si_YPTdatasheets2019.xlsx

 Land uses/7 traps that have burn history within last 3 years:

~Dropbox\teamEchinacea2019\sheaIssendorf\YPT 2019 Si\YPT trap land uses 1.xlsx

Other files associated with the project can be found in the folder


Team Members involved with this project: Shea Issendorf (2019,) Mike Humphrey (2018-2019,) John Van Kampen (2018-2019,) Kristen Manion (2017-2018,) Alex Hajek (2017,) and Steph Pimm Lyon (2004)

You can read more about pollinators on roadsides, as well as links to prior flog entries mentioning the experiment, on the background page for this experiment.

Recap of past year & summer 2018 field season

It’s time to recap everything that’s been going on with the Echinacea Project for the last 12(ish) months – and trust me, it’s a lot! We report all of this info annually to our two major grant providers, CBG & UMN. This includes all of our lab and field activity.

Last spring the lab was busy as always. Led by Tracie, volunteer citizen scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden finished cleaning heads harvested in summer 2016 and began cleaning heads harvested in 2017. These volunteers clean heads to remove all the achenes, which are then counted to give us an accurate metric of echinacea plant fitness. There were a lot of heads from 2017, and volunteers continued to clean them through the summer

A bunch of undergraduate students have worked on projects in the lab this past year, including Emily, Emma, Leah, Julie (joining Team Echinacea 2019!), Tris, Sarah, and Evan. It’s always great to have undergrads in the lab – they learn a lot from us, and we learn a lot from them! Of course, graduate students were hard at work as well. Lea not only analyzed her data regarding seed set in Liatris and Solidago, but also set up a whole new experimental plot in California. Kristen, along with volunteer Mike Humphrey, is making a collection from the hundreds of bees she caught this summer in her yellow pan traps and emergence tents.

[STUART – add something here about papers that have been written/ are currently being reviewed by journals?]

Now on to the big part of this report – our super-productive 2018 field season! The 2018 summer team (pictured) included three undergraduate students from Minnesota Colleges (Andy, Brigid, and Riley),  three undergraduates in the Ison Lab at the College of Wooster (Evan, Mia, and Zeke), two high-school students (Anna and Morgan), one high-school teacher (John), one graduate student (Kristen), two recent college grads (Michael and Will), and, of course, Stuart. Gretel and Amy also came to the field intermittently throughout the summer.

We summarized the progress we made on many summer projects this past year and made flog posts about the ones where considerable new progress was made. You’ll notice this part may look remarkably similar to previous years – we’ve been conducting many of these experiments for many years!

As always, we measured survival, growth, phenology, and flowering effort of our model plant, Echinacea angustifolia, in several experimental plots. The earliest was established in 1996 and the most recent in 2015. For many of these experiments it was business as usual, and if you’re interested in learning more about them we’ve linked to their background pages below. We spent quite a bit of time measuring plants in the qGen2 & qGen3 plot (exPt 8), and while many of the plants are doing well, we had almost 50% mortality from 2017 to now. In Amy Dykstra’s experiments, we continued to monitor plant survival and growth. While mortality is low, there are still no flowering plants!

Otherwise, here are new 2018 update flog posts about new data in the experiments that take place in our common garden experiments. Michael is currently working on a manuscript about the effects of pollen limitation in echinacea:

In addition to out common gardens, we make observations of Echinacea plants in natural prairie remnants in our study area. These observations include flowering phenology, survival, reproduction, and incidence of disease. Amy is currently investigating remnant flowering phenology for her PhD.

Echinacea angustifolia interacts with and shares space with many plant and insect species. Here are updates and flog posts about projects on species that are echinacea-adjacent. Kristen is using the data collected about pollinators on roadsides and ground nesting bees for her Master’s thesis.  Andy found this year that aphids have virtually no effect on the fitness of echinacea plants. While no one this year is specifically looking at Hesperostipa, its worth noting that we did go out and check! We found only a few seeds, but collected them anyway.

Also, we have some new projects that don’t necessarily fit into any of the above categories. Here are updates of their projects.

And finally, we are worried about non-native Echinacea plants that are used in restorations and how they impact populations of the native Echinacea angustifolia. We have several ongoing experiments that investigate a population of Echinacea pallida introduced within our study area. Riley used the plants in P7 to gather data for his senior thesis at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Team Echinacea 2018 at exPt2. From left to right: Gretel, Amy, Will, Evan, Morgan, Zeke, Mia, John, Anna, Kristen, Andy, Brigid, Riley, Michael (Stuart took the photo)

MEEC 2019: Evan Jackson’s Pollen bank

Hello Flog!

Over the next few days, I’ll be making a few posts about the various Team Echinacea members who attended MEEC (Midwest Evolution and Ecology Conference) 2019. This conference was hosted by the grad students of Indiana State University at Terre Haute from April 26th to 28th. Six members of Team Echinacea attended: Evan, Kristen, Mia, Michael, Riley, and Tris. Everyone made a poster, execpt for Kristen who gave an excellent talk about her research on ground nesting bees.

In this first post, I wanted to highlight Evan’s poster about the echinacea pollen bank. This was work the he and Zeke did in P2 this summer, and is the basis of Zeke’s senior independent study at Wooster College. Evan, and another member of the Ison lab at Wooster, Nate, presented the poster summarizing this work at MEEC. They had by far the most attractive drawing of native bees of any poster present. You can read all about the pollen bank project on the background page for the experiment!

Evan with his MEEC poster

Title: Specialist pollinator Andrena rudbeckiae removes more Echinacea angustifolia pollen per visit than more generalist bee taxa

Presented at: MEEC 2019 at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, IN

When: April 27th, 2019

Poster Link: Evan Jackson Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC) Poster

2018 Update: Pollinators on Roadsides

A bumblebee on a yellow flower. We use yellow pan traps to mimic these Asteraceae

Pollinator diversity and abundance are declining due in part to land use change such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, pesticide contamination, among other numerous anthropogenic disturbances. The extent to which pollinator and native bee diversity and abundance is changing is not well understood, especially within tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Pollinators are important in the prairie and they provide valuable ecosystem services to native plants and to economically important plants used in agriculture.

In summer 2018, we collected bee specimens from 37 roadside sites using yellow pan traps. These sites are located within a gradient of various surrounding landscapes, some surrounded by natural areas, semi-natural areas, agricultural fields, development, or a mixture of the above. IN summer ’17 we sampled over 600+ bee specimens across 8 sampling weeks. IN summer ’18, we captured similar abundances of bees (~450 specimens) collected across 6 weeks. Once specimens are collected, they are stored in ethanol until we are able to pin them. Once specimens are processed, we catalog specimens and keep a record for later specimen identification. Identifying specimens to species requires specific, expert knowledge of the families and genera of native bees and pollinators in this ecosystem.

The goal of this experiment was to repeat a similar study done in 2004 by Wagenius and Lyon, in which they collected information on pollinator abundance and diversity. The aim of the project was to understand how landscape characteristics may influence bee community composition. The information from this project allows us to make comparisons between the pollinator communities collected in 2017, and a similar project from 2004. This information can inform diversity and abundance changes across the 13-14 years and provide valuable insight into native bee declines in this system.

Year started: 2004, rebooted in 2017

Location: Roadsides in and around Solem Township, Minnesota.

Overlaps with: Ground nesting bees (link to come)

Samples collected: Over 450 bee specimens, currently being pinned at CBG

GPS points shot: Locations for each of the pan trap sites

Team Members who have worked on this project include:  Steph Pimm Lyon (2004), Alex Hajek (2017), Kristen Manion (2017 & 2018), and John VanKempen (2018). Also, a big thank you to Mike Humphrey who has worked in the lab pinning, processing, and cataloging native bee specimens from the 2017 and 2018 field seasons.

You can find out more about the pollinators on roadsides project and links to previous posts regarding it on the background page for this experiment.

Hello from the Molecular lab of Team Echinacea East

Hello from Team Echinacea East!

A long long time ago on the flog many clicks away, Lara Leventhal performed an experiment to determine the amount of interspecific pollen diversity on different taxa of solitary ground nesting bees. The field aspect of this experiment occurred during the summer of 2016 this involved catching bees and wiping them on styles of Echinacea. By genotyping seedlings that were produced by wiping bees on receptive styles, we are able to determine how many different plants that the bee taxa are carrying pollen from. This requires performing plant paternity tests really means a lot of PCR work. This work has been going on for over a year, we are starting to reach the end and almost to a point of doing only reruns on samples that failed. I have not been doing this work alone, there have been many people that have worked on this project right now Michelle Chang and I have been on the molecular team, (there has been at least two people besides Laura that worked on this project).

Meet Michele! She is working on loading a PCR plate in this photo


Look its a new PCR!

We called it boxville for a reason!

Doing lab work requires well a set up lab. The College of Wooster just opened our new life sciences building that means that when I got back to school the lab was full of boxes. We had to unpack before we could do anything. This was very exciting but also was a daunting task, we have recently have finished setting up the lab and the greenhouse(oh have I not mentioned it yet there is a greenhouse attached to the lab!)

One side of the lab(post boxes)

The other half of the lab

Until next time flog!


MACC poster

Hello once again flog!

Last weekend I presented a poster (link below) at the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions convention in Worcester, MA.

This was my first poster symposium and I am glad to say it went great! I was able to interact with so many people attending the conference, along with other student researchers. I received some wonderful comments and feedback, and hopefully was able to make more people aware of soil, native bees, and the Echinacea Project!

My poster focused on the soil texture data I collected over January and its correlation to native bee nesting. After a little more work in R, I found some surprising results. The percent of sand or silt did not have any influence on bee presence. However, between the eight sites and the three land uses,  variation in percent sand was significant. Meaning, soil variation does exist across the Echinacea Project sampling area, it just might not be the strongest factor influencing bee nesting.

The soil is only one component of this project though. We also collected data on the slope, vegetation, percent bare ground, and soil hardness. One of these variables may be the key in understanding native bee nesting, so there’s a lot more analyzing and R to come.

I am so grateful for all the help I have received to make my first poster experience a success!

Until next time!

Click on the link below to see a high resolution image of the poster