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.

2023 Update: Ground-nesting bees in prairie remnants and restorations

During the summer of 2023, Team Echinacea embarked on an ENRTF funded mission to better understand how prescribed fires influences solitary bee nesting habitat, food resources, and diversity is critical for providing recommendations about how prescribed fire should be used to promote pollinator conservation and healthy prairie.

We surveyed solitary bee diversity and nesting habitat before and after prescribed fires in a subset of 30 prairie remnants and 15 prairie restorations to determine how prescribed fire affects solitary bee nesting habitat and abundance. We used emergence traps to investigate composition of solitary bees in prairies. This was complemented by detailed measures of soil and litter to characterize how prescribed burning influences the nesting habitat (read more here).

We deployed emergence traps at our random points (bb points) in prairie remnants and restorations in mid-June – early September. Our deployment spanned three rotations of bb points and we put out a total of ~1,238 emergence traps.

El, Luke, and Jan, 2023 pollinator crew, deploy an emergence trap at a bb point.

As of September 28, members of Team Echinacea had processed 850 vials, 122 of which contained bees. Our preliminary catch rate is 14%! These specimens were pinned and are currently at Chicago Botanic Garden, awaiting transportation to University of Minnesota where Zach Portman, a bee taxonomist, will identify them. Team Echinacea also collected lots of non-bee bycatch while processing specimens collected in the traps. Bycatch is currently stored in our freezer at Chicago Botanic Garden.

Jan pins a bee that they found while processing vials from emergence trapping!

Ian Roberts, a M.S. student with the Echinacea Project, has taken charge of the Emergence trapping project and is currently coordinating data entry. When emergence trapping resumes in the 2024 field season, we will be well set up, thanks to detailed written and videotaped protocols made by our summer 2023 pollinator team. The prtocol can be found here: “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023/Emergence Trap Protocol.pdf”. Video instructions are located in “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023/exampleVideos”.

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.

Proposal to study native solitary bees

The Echinacea Project has been investigating tallgrass prairie in Douglas and Grant Counties, MN since 1995. Our research on native plants & pollinators identifies threats to prairies as well as conservation opportunities. For example, in a 21-year investigation of purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) we found that prescribed burns improved seed production by synchronizing reproduction and improving pollination. We recently submitted a proposal to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for funding to build on our long-term investigations. We propose research projects to investigate how prescribed burns affect solitary, ground-nesting bees — the most important pollinators in tallgrass prairie. Specifically, we will examine how burns affect solitary bee diversity, nesting habitat, and food resources (e.g. quantity and nutritional quality of pollen and nectar). This research will produce valuable information for natural resource managers, including guidelines for how to maintain insect pollinators and prairie plants with prescribed fires.

Download a pdf of our proposal, including the below graphic, from the LCCMR webpage.

The graphic below summarizes our proposed research:

Click to enlarge


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.

We’ll burn that prairie when we get to it

Members of Team Echinacea are freshly returned from a successful burn outing! We completed five experimental burns during our trip to western MN. A major win for the experimental design of our MN ENRTF funded research on prescribed fire and ground nesting bees as well as for conservation! Here is the scoop:

Late Friday night we got to the Hjelm House and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. In hindsight, I think this auspicious sighting boded well for our good fortune in burning conditions.

On Saturday morning we headed to Torgeson’s to burn the northern unit. Because it was predicted to be a dry day, we got an early start and were ready to burn by 10:45. We got to see lots of spring flora before the burn: pucoons, violets, sedges, pussytoes, etc… These plants will be even happier next year. With help from Lee, the burn went very smoothly. Torgeson’s is a hilly site, so the burn was slope driven and we had a great view. Things are pretty greened up in the area, so the burn was quite smoky. USFWS, who were burning a big restoration right next door must have been burning cattails- look at that thick, brown smoke coming from the other side of the road. Almost like we are having bonfires at neighboring campsites. Cute!

Jared secures the break at torgen before we stand back and watch the fire burn out.

Next we ventured into Grant County. No burning there- and if you’ve been following along that may not be a surprise to you. So it was back to Douglas Co. After lunch the crew headed to hutch to burn the western unit. Another Hilly site. We prepped our breaks and were ready to go! Burn number 2 down!

Sunday was a no-burn day because wildfire smoke from Canada was hanging over many counties in MN. A great day to get work done on the porch and venture into Morris to revisit old haunts. We anxiously awaited the next day’s updated report on burn restrictions.

Monday morning we got the go ahead to burn in Grant county!! We called in our backups (former team members Daytona and Liam plus a few of Liam’s friends) and headed to Yellow Orchid Hill West to train our first time burners in at a smaller site. The wind was squirrely but our burn was successful and we were just a hop, skip and a jump away from the revered hulze unit. After 3 failed attempts, was this finally our day?

Stuart and Jared watch the last flames burn out in the center of hulze.

Yes! Drive down highway 55 and you will see for yourself! A hilly expanse of charred earth! A sight for sore eyes after the last burn way, way back in 2003.

By this time, restrictions were lifted in Douglas Co. and the crew headed to Nice Island for a final burn before calling it a day and heading back to the farmhouse. Over Jean’s rhubarb cake we envisioned a utopian or maybe dystopian future on team Echinacea where we have a high tech call center and everything is drone operated. We’ll keep you posted on the call center and the rest of the burns we hope to get done this season.

Justin’s research on prescribed fire and soil properties

There are so many interesting questions to ask within the study design of our MN ENRTF funded research on prescribed fire and ground nesting bees! We are lucky to collaborate with researchers in the area who are taking them on.

Justin presents his research at the MSU-Mankato research symposium

Justin Kjorness, undergraduate at Minnesota State University-Mankato, worked with Drs. Mrganka De and Matt Kaproth (and many more) to collect soil samples at our remnants and restorations this summer. He has since been asking questions about the effects of prescribed fire regimes on soil physical properties. He presented these results at the MSU-Mankato research symposium this week!

Learn more about Justin’s results below!

2023 Update: Predators in prairie remnants and restorations

Ants are an integral part of ecosystems, playing a role in seed dispersal, detritus removal, pest predation, and nutrient cycling. Because ants nest in the ground, they are particularly susceptible to any process that disturbs the earth and can be heavily impacted by land use practices and management decisions. Diane Roeder, at Augustana University, designed this survey to quantify ant species diversity in remnant and restored prairie patches in western MN. These sites are primarily managed by fire, a type of disturbance that has been hypothesized to impact ant species differently via mortality and/or changes in habitat structure. During the summer, Diane and members of team Echinacea sampled 45 prairie sites (30 remnant, 15 restored), deploying a total of 415 pitfall traps. Diane and her colleagues are in the process of sorting ants from other ground-dwelling invertebrates captured by the traps and will identify specimens to compare abundance, species richness, and community composition from sites under different management regimes. In addition to measuring diversity, They also deployed sentinel prey items to determine whether arthropod communities in these areas remove prey at different rates as a measure of ecosystem services provided by predatory arthropods. To do this, they set out small cages containing moth eggs and recorded the number of eggs removed. In the future, Diane hopes to compare the overall arthropod communities between these types of sites from multiple years of sampling.

Diane traveled all over our study area during her few days in Western Minnesota.
This pitfall trap was set up at a random bb point in our study area.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: Prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township, MN.
  • Overlaps with: Ground Nesting Bees
  • Data collected: species identities and richness (all arthropods, with a focus on ants), sentinel prey removal (number moth eggs removed)
  • Samples or specimens collected: All invertebrates collected in pitfall traps (stored at Augustana University, Sioux Falls, SD)
  • Products: Stay tuned!

2023 Update: Random points in prairie remnants and restorations

For the ENRTF-funded research project investigating fire effects on ground-nesting bees, plant-pollinator
interactions, and other insects within fragmented prairies, Team Echinacea sampled 45 total prairie sites (30 remnants and 15 restorations).

To obtain robust inferences, it is important to sample randomly so that our sampling effort is not biased by what we perceive to be “good” or “bad” habitat, even subconsciously. To this end, we sampled at random locations within each site. At each site, we established between 30 and 72 sampling locations with unique identifiers (four-digit bbpts, for “burning and bees sampling points”). Early in the summer, before sampling at these points began, we ground truthed the points to ensure we were not choosing in places where we could not sample at all (e.g., think a big rock, a water body, a big patch of poison ivy, a gravel road, etc.).

Jared generated a large number of random points for each site, more points than we actually intended to sample. trap. We visited these points using a high precision gps unit and evaluated whether to “keep” the points and assign them a bbpt or “reject” the point if it could not be sampled safely or effectively.

Jan, 2023 pollinator team member, ground truths bb points at Torgen.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township, MN
  • Overlaps with: ground nesting bees, fire x fragmentation, soils in remnants and restorations, floral resources in remnants and restorations, microhabitats in prairie remnants and restorations
  • Data collected: spatial locations of accepted bb points are in “~/Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2023/convertedXML2023/bbptsForEnrtf”. Maps of bb points are located in “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023”
  • Samples or specimens collected: NA
  • Products: Stay tuned!