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.

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.

Bee-uty School Dropout

Hello! I am Emily Staufer, one of the Lake Forest College students taking part in the ‘mini-internships’ with CBG! I’m working with Kristen Manion on pinning foraging bees from the Hegg NE site.

I really enjoy working on this project; I spent the past summer in a research lab point-mounting ants, and so working with critters a little larger and involving much less glue is a much-welcomed change of pace. I’ve also always had an interest in conservation ecology, so this project is a perfect fit, and Kristen is helping me figure out how to ask questions of my own about my little section I’m working on in order to have a great presentation for the end of the semester.

When asked about my specific role, I like to think of my corner of the table in the CBG lab as my bee beauty (bee-uty!) salon – it’s my role to make the specimen look as good as possible, and this all boils down to fluffy bees.

At my salon, the wash always comes first, since the bees are all in their ethanol tubes from each collection location. A quick towel dry follows to begin the fluffing process. Under the dissecting scope, they undergo a slightly invasive process when the pin is put in place through the center of their abdomen, but it is followed quickly by a relaxing massage with a pair of forceps as I position their legs and wings. What comes next is the real treat – a nice, warm blowdry using my very professional Pink Hairdryer. No bee is left defluffed, as this is key to the process! After their treatment, each happy customer is added to the larger board next to their foraging friends from the same site. Come visit my salon in the CBG lab, 100% satisfaction rating on Yelp (or it would have one, if bees had access to iPhones).

Some of the bees Emily has been working with these past few weeks.

The Weekend

On Friday it was Riley’s last day so we knew going into the weekend that it was going to be rough. Luckily we have a few new roommates around to help us deal with the loss of the majority of the team.

It’s okay that everyone has left us because we get to  enjoy time with the famous Bellamy Salami Odysseus and Huxley Leopold. Furry roommates are the best!

On Saturday, the weather was nice. Michael came with me in the afternoon to help move traps at my sites near 55 highway. It was hot and humid, but it went about twice as fast with some assistance.

The tents on the hill at a remnant prairie along highway 55.

Saturday night we relaxed at Andes and watched a few movies: The Florida Project and Children of Men. Both fantastic films to round out our evening!

On Sunday, the morning was hazy and cloudy so I decided not to move traps. I spent most of the day inputing data in order to compare data frames and realized I have a lot of data entry to catch up on! But with the help of a handy function (written by Will) it’s all much easier on all of us. We also got to talk to a few of our favorite Wooster students (Mia, Zeke, and Evan). Mia virtually showed us around the new lab digs at Wooster. I also got a number of critical updates on their exciting first week back to school –  new roommates, sneaking onto roofs, and class schedules. I suggested we Facetime every Sunday for the rest of the year. I am not sure if they felt as willing to commit to this plan as I am. Regardless, it is no surprise that CoWBee was already working hard in the lab on their first weekend back in class.

Sunday evening we relaxed at Andes and watched The Glass Castle, which is the movie depiction of an autobiography of the life of Jeannette Walls. It’s a great book and would highly recommend (although be prepared because it’s a tear jerker!)

We are sad to lose Andy this week but are so excited because Tracie will be here on Wednesday! Stay tuned for more exciting updates this week as things roll on with Team Echinacea 2018.

Flekkefest 2018

Hello floggers, today was a very exciting day to be a member of Team Echinacea!

Flekkefest is an annual festival in Elbow Lake that celebrates community, Norwegian culture, and having fun. Early this morning, we woke up in time to run in the Flekkefest 5k. Our own Jon Van Kempen was in charge of the race. Several members of the team ran the race, while some walked. We had a few people even place in their age groups (Gretel, Stuart, Zeke, Michael, and Amy) while Amy won the woman’s overall for the race. Evan, Mia, and I chose to walk the race which meant we had a fun time cheering people on as they ran past.

Our warm welcome to the 5k this morning.

I was holding a trophy, not because I won but because Amy won two!

After the race, we all got one free book from the library book sale and had breakfast at a yummy spot in downtown Elbow Lake. Later, a few of us stayed in town to watch chainsaw carvings and check out the old cars on display.

A cool troll carved out of wood.

After lunch we headed back to the Roost to enjoy some down time. Brigid and her friend Maria came back from St. John’s and we thought it would be a great idea to go canoeing (turns out it was!). We headed out to Lake Carlos to rent canoes for the day and spent a few hours on the water. It was a great workout and also so beautiful. We talked about what we were like as children and what kind of birthday parties we had. Sometimes we sang songs as we paddled. It was an awesome afternoon.

Us having a great time this afternoon while out on the Lake.

Later we returned to the Roost and Zeke cooked a yummy meal of cheese and apple pancakes. After dinner, per usual, we played a few rounds of Werewolf with Will.

Days like today make me so excited to spend the summer out here in Minnesota! See you next time.



Today was an eventful Sunday for many members of Team Echinacea. This morning, members of the Roost and I drove to Glenwood to see our very own Waterama princess, Anna Vold, in the annual Waterama parade. Waterama is an annual summer festival full of fun activities to celebrate water and lake culture. This is fitting because Glenwood is a quaint little town next to a very big lake. The parade was very chill, along with everyone watching the parade. Things were very not chill as soon as we saw Anna Vold drive up on her float. I think all of Glenwood could hear us cheering for Anna.

Anna the Aquamania princess waving to her fans.

After the parade we headed back to Alex. I demanded that we all stop to take photos at a sunflower field right along the highway. We quickly did a round of phenology on the plants. I am glad that my friends were eager to let me take pictures of them because I think we all got a new profile picture out of the experience!

Right after doing some funology on the Sunflowers.

Evan’s arm was perfect for taking this selfie.

Later at the Roost Mia cooked French Toast for dinner. We also played a few rounds of KanJam and Werewolf. And after dinner, a few of us went bowling. It is no surprise that Zeke (who is good at every sport except basketball) won the first round. One beer in however, Andy was able to steal a win for the second round using the 8lb ball. The only negative part of this activity was that unfortunately they did not take music requests at the bowling alley. We had fun despite this hiccup.

What a great day! See you tomorrow at work.

Are plants sentient?

Good evening floggers. Today was an exciting day for Team Echinacea. Big Event 4: Revenge of the Bees occurred this morning out at p2. I unfortunately was unable to attend because I had to stake and move emergence traps. The weather was nice today so I imagine it was a fun time!

What p2 looked like from where I was this morning.

Today was my first day at a new site for the bee emergence tents. Yesterday I collected traps at Hegg Far West. Sadly, there were no bees yesterday. Today I staked and moved tents to Hegg North East with hopes of catching a bee in the traps tomorrow.

Tonight we had our weekly Journal Club. Mia picked an interesting paper titled “Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters” by Gagliano et al. 2014. Using the sensitive plant they showed that plants are able to show an elementary form of learning. We had a tantalizing discussion about the sentience and value of plants along with a discussion of the methods.

See you tomorrow flog!

What’s your sign? A guide to the stars for prairie plants

Hi floggers! It’s me, Kristen, your resident prairie plant astrologist. The alignment of the stars and planets has captivated humans for centuries. In times of confusion humans have looked to the sky for answers. Many think that how these celestial bodies move throughout the sky determine the course of our lives. Do you struggle with finding the thread of greater meaning among the events of your life? Do you suffer from a constant internal battle between the head and the heart? Astrology may have answers to some of these questions for you, human. But did you know that just like people, prairie plants ALSO have their own horoscopes?

In times of confusion, like loss of habitat, lack of essential nutrients, threats from pollution and other anthropogenic forces – our astrological bodies can provide plant communities with guidance towards higher survival and reproductive success. Many weeks ago on my Instagram story (@kristenmanion) I did a similar reading of the signs as prairie plants.  This time I have used plants exclusively found in Echinacea Project field sites.Below I provide characteristics for the signs in the form of prairie plants based on my interpretation of their alignment with the stars. For simplicity, I have decided only to use Sun signs in this analysis.

Below from left to right:

Capricorn. Heliopsis helianthoides. – Wow False sunflower. You work hard to attract those pollinators. Remember that hard work can take you far, but it’s important to remember your roots and appreciate the pollen donors and stigma receptors who got you there.

Aquarius. Capsella pursa-pastoris. – Shephard’s purse you intellectual! Don’t forget that sometimes matters of the heart are important along with the head.  Life’s emotions can be complex, consider your roots.

Pisces.  Convolvulis arvensis. – Classic field bindweed producing a gorgeous and showy white flower. Your creative side is your strength but can also be your weakness. Consider that inspiration can come from unlikely places!

Taurus. Asclepias viridifloris. – Spider milkweed, you’re almost ready to attract those butterflies! As a Taurus you never seem to forget to relax and kick back. It’s okay to work hard sometimes – more milky latex the better!

Gemini. Echinacea angustifolia. – Oh, my dear Echinacea! Why of course you would be a Gemini. Your beauty illicits feelings of great joy, yet why do you also seem to provide us with our greatest challenges? Perhaps it is because there are two sides to you. We love to see you blooming, yet we don’t want to harvest 1800 heads in P2!

Cancer. Pediomelum argophyllum. – Just like you Cancer, silver leaf scurf pea is soft around the edges. Remember that just because you might be a little sensitive you are still important. Fixing nitrogen is so important to the prairie! You’re value is never underrated.

Leo. Anemone canadensis. – I know you Leos like to be proud, and boy are anemones a proud bunch. Don’t forget that just because you like to show off doesn’t mean you can’t step out of the limelight for a less popular floral neighbor. It’s okay to be okay with not always performing!

Virgo. Zizea aurea – The prim and proper golden alexander knows that order is key to a productive life. Sometimes though, you may find yourself overwhelmed by your blooms. Take a step back and reevaluate when things get tough.

Libra. Lithospermum canescens. – Just like you, hoary puccoon, is an interesting plant! We know that you like to be balanced Libra but that you also don’t like to move away from your comfort zone. Consider thinking outside the box. It may reward you!

Scorpio. Tradescantia occidentalis. – Spiderworts are very mysterious, just like sun sign Scorpio. We know you have a meaning behind the madness but don’t forget that transparency is okay too. The team wants to know what you’re thinking inside your head!

Aries. Symphoricarpos albus. – You can be tough sometimes (especially given your woody habit)! Consider other points of view. You thrive when other people help you out, don’t forget that you can be someone to lean on too.

Sagittarius. Lotus corniculatus. – The only non-native in this list, but you don’t care, Birdsfoot trefoil, because you love to travel. Sometimes it’s okay to not spread so much. When there’s too much of you, it can force others to feel like they can’t shine.

This has been the first edition of “The Signs as Prairie Plants.” Consider ways in which the stars can guide your life and remember sage advice from plants in the prairie: always remember your roots!

As we learn from our struggles of today (whether it be setting up emergence tents at EELR, checking twist ties at p2, or learning how to be an efficient team member there is always something to be learned about oneself. Sometimes the struggle is worth it! Consider this as we lean into this next few weeks.

Love Your Prairie Plant Astrologer,


Kristen setting up emergence tents for the first time.

The team after surviving the onslaught of mosquitoes at p2.

Kristen Manion

Echinacea Project 2018

Plant Biology & Conservation, Northwestern University 2017-

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University if Kansas 2017

Research Interests

Broadly, I am interested in how landscape dynamics shape bee communities. Did you know that over 80% of bees in the prairie spend part of their life in the ground? We have lots of information about how bees forage and the kinds of pollen they forage for, but know very little about the kinds of conditions suitable for bees to build their nests. My thesis project explores how land use history and soil microhabitat indicators influence nesting densities. This summer I will explore how common land use treatments (remnant prairies, restorations, and old agricultural fields) influence where bees build their nests!


I am a Master’s student in Plant Biology & Conservation through Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. I grew up moving all over the country but went to high school and college in the Kansas City area. I believe passionately in diversity and inclusion and try to do my part to make STEM a more equitable field for people of all backgrounds and identities. I am active on Twitter and Instagram and am learning how to use these platforms for science education and communication. I love to read in my spare time, but I also just enjoy learning/speaking Spanish, listening to good music, smelling candles, and cooking yummy food!

Some bees posing with me and a microscope!


Hi everyone! Tracie, Kris (another PBC grad student), and I had a great time presenting this year at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference in Kalamazoo, MI. Here’s a look at my poster that I presented about pollen on Echinacea as a part of the ongoing Floral Neighborhood Communities project:

Do pollen loads differ among native bee visitors to Echinacea angustifolia?

A picture of me presenting!

MEEC 2018 was awesome! For any undergrad or graduate student interested in attending an inexpensive, regional conference I would highly recommend it. It was great to network with fellow graduate students and hear all about the great research ongoing here in the region!