Updates and Corrections

The Bee team has been busy (I’m avoiding including a bad pun here) lately. We have implemented and perfected our tracking protocol in the past couple of mornings, and have gotten some good data looking at the flights between flowering heads in the Common Garden. Yesterday morning we successfully tracked the flight of one bee to 57 consecutive heads! For the most part, we have been faithful to the original protocol, although we have found that working in groups larger than two is more successful.

We discovered yesterday that the bee we have been identifying as Halictus rubicundus is actually neither that genus nor species. Stuart brought up a reference collection from the U of M, and our best guess is now that our bee is Melissodes cf. subillata.

Marking bees

Several pictures of the Bee Team marking bees.



Bee Team Strikes Back

This morning, due to a revolutionary development in our marking protocol, the Bee team members caught and marked 6 Halictus rubicundus in a relatively short amount of time. The secret to our success was capturing the bees and cooling them before any painting was attempted, instead of trying to mark them while they worked the Echinacea heads. Tomorrow we will spend a good portion of the morning marking bees in the common garden, and then hopefully be able to train the rest of the crew in, so that we can begin taking data in earnest later in the week. Read on for new and revised protocols…


Bee Painting Protocol
Needed Equipment:
-lunch box coolers, each with an ice pack and several glass vials
-paint applicator and bandolier
-insect net
-visor, with random number list and bee07 form

1. Walk rows as prescibed by the random number list with a partner, scanning 4rows across for bees on Echinacea heads
2. Catch any bees with the insect net (being careful of flower heads!) and transfer the bees to a chilled vial
3. Keep bees in cooler until sufficiently chilly and slow (approx 3-5 min)
4. Transfer bee from the vial to a flat working surface (plastic bag on top of the ice pack works well) and paint a small dot of the appropriate color on to the middle of the thorax
5. Allow the bee to warm up, and release it in the same vicinity in which it was caught
6. Record all necessary data (including bees species, paint color, plant coordinates etc) in the visor

Tracking Protocol
Needed Equipment:
-color key pallet
-visor, with random number list and bee07 form

We haven’t yet tested this protocol, and there will probably be some revision/elaboration before it gets implemented. But this is the current plan:

1. Working in pairs, walk random rows, searching the 4 adjacent rows for bees.
2. When a bee is located, track it for as many consecutive flights as possible (we anticipate that one person should be visually tracking the bee, while the other partner records data in the visor, and assists with tracking when not data taking)

Preliminary protocol for bee/ant visits during phenology

Here are some preliminary instructions on how to observe and record bee/ant presence or absence while we are doing phenology measurements. I thought that while we are looking so closely at each head, we might as well try to garner some information on the Hymenopteran vistors as well. It will not be continuous data, but rather a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ measurement for each plant (bees) or for each head (ants).


Bee collecting composite pollen, copyright Jon Sullivan


As you begin your phenology measurements only scan for bees once you are within 1m of the plant. If there are any moving, active bees on any head, mark the appropriate box in your phenology form. As soon as you touch a head for phenology measurements, stop recording any bee presence/absence. So, if you are looking at a head and a bee lands on an adjacent head, just ignore it. For bees, we are interested in bee presence for the ENTIRE plant, so as soon as you see one, you are finished entering data.

Remember, wee are only interested in active bees, so don’t count sleeping bees, dead bees, bees caught by crab spiders or assassin bugs, etc.


Ant, copyright Alex Wild


Ant data are collected on a per-head basis. As you take each head into your hand and begin your anther count, notice if you see any ants on the top of the inflorescence (either ray OR disk florets). Don’t make any special effort at looking underneath the inflorescence. If no ants make an appearance as you are handling the head, mark the head as having no ants, if ANY ants appear whilst you are searching the head, enter the data as such.



We have finished two weeks of the summer field season and I feel like we haven’t settled into a routine because we have been doing something new and different each day. It’s exciting.

Here’s a recap of accomplishments this past week…

Last week we finished searching for plants in the recruitment experiment. One plant (of ~1000 still alive) is flowering this year; it’s the first plant in the experiment to flower! The plant germinated in spring 2001.

Our high tech endeavors are underway and we have computer infrastructure to support them. Josh has networked the computers, hard drives, and printer. After some anxiety-inducing modifications to the video camera power supplies, we started taking video of pollinators & other visitors of Echinacea heads. Andy previewed a video this morning and it looks great! We still need to get more reliable power sources, but video cameras sure beat sitting on a bucket.

Colin has developed a camera rig to take shots of Echinacea heads in the common garden. We will be able to quantify many aspects of radial symmetry in the heads with the resulting digital images.

We assessed herbivory of ray florets in the common garden. We also looked at damage to disc florets. Jameson began to classify types of damage, but there weren’t that many heads with damage to the disk florets.

The KAP team (Julie, Rachel, and Josh) has made progress. Wind conditions have kept the kites on the ground most days, but they are making ground markers and have prepared the camera and rig. I flew the Sutton FlowForm 16 today in 12-16 mph surface winds at the park in Hoffman. Wow, it can pull. Yesterday, Gretel & I flew the G-Kites Dopero in somewhat variable winds. It was nervewracking.

The Bee team (Amy, Ian, Jameson, & Gretel) has abandoned my (bad) idea of watching bees through binoculars in favor of their much better idea. They are marking Agapostemon virescens individuals with acrylic paint and watching them when they are on the heads. They marked two bees on Friday and saw one on Saturday. Cool. They also have a slick form for entering observations.

We all have been making systematic observations of flowering phenology and style persistence of all plants in the common garden and along a transect at Staffanson Prairie Preserve.

In case anyone was wondering about the ostensibly narcissistic streak in recent posts, I _asked_ everyone on the team to post a profile with a photo.

Good work team Echinacea! We are making great progress in our quest to gain greater understanding of the ecology and evolution of plants and insects in fragmented prairie habitat.

No more binoculars

The team formally called “Team Binocular” has now been christened “Bee Team” because of our apparent lack of need for binoculars. We found after some preliminary observations that watching bees with binoculars is pretty much impossible. There is simply too much swaying of brome to be able to track a small darkly covered bee. The wind also picks up too quickly in the morning, making the bees’ flights very erratic and difficult to follow. We tried to follow the bees as they flew off the Echinacea heads, but they would usually catch in the wind and then disappear from our field of view. We also used a step ladder to see if increased height above the garden would help us, but it did not. This stage of the project was a tad disheartening and we began to doubt the feasibility of our project.
We did make some positive progress however, and found that we could often follow the bees with the naked eye. Many times we could actually follow the bee with our eyes as it flew to the next flower, although these flights were typically very short, often just to one of the closest flowers a few meters away or to another flower head on the same plant. The uncertainty of whether that bee is actually the same one led us to devise strategies for distinguishing this fact. People mark honeybees, so we figured that marking our bees the same way with a bit of paint on the thorax would be a feasible option. To determine the feasibility, I “pet” the bee with a bit of brome grass to see if we could mark the bees while they were on the flower heads. In most cases, as long as you moved slowly, the bees were not in the least bit disturbed and continued to explore the flower heads. We put small paint dots on several small non-metallic halictids that we figured we were not going to track due to the difficulty in identifying them on the fly. What was amazing was that we saw some of these bees again as we walked around the common garden not only about 5 minutes after we had marked them, but also almost an hour later when we returned to the common garden.
The most common bee species we saw was Agapostemon virescens, which is a Halictid with a metallic green head and thorax. This bee is fairly large and is also readily identifiable. We also saw another bee fairly fre quently, another halictid Halictis rubicundus. While this bee is also large and even easier to track as it flies because it is slower moving, it would also be harder to paint because it is somewhat more skittish and moves quicker and more erratically on the flower heads. Because of this, we have chosen to focus on Agapostemon virescens first and then maybe expand to other species.
Anyways, that is enough observations for now, but the opportunities for this project are exciting and seem very promising. Several things seem possible with this project (according to Stuart), including determination of home ranges, estimation of population size, and flight patterns.

Go Team

Ian tries out his marking technique as he pets a bee with a brome straw

Pollinator Protocol

Tomorrow marks the official kick-off day for the Bee Team. We plan to mark several species of generalist bees found in the common garden with paint spots on the thorax. Our painted bees will hopefully provide data that will answer questions about their population size in the common garden, home ranges of individual bees, and flight path distances between echinacea heads. Before we begin marking our bees tomorrow, we need to:
-find and/or make nails with rounded ends with which to paint the bees (nails are the recommended tool, according to Ian’s online research, as they transfer thin, even circles) and
-make a pendragon form for the visors with which to collect data (this form should include date, time, bee species, paint color, plant on which the bee was originally observed, and a place for notes)

Equipment needed:
paint bandoliers
nails/other paint applicators
list of random numbers

Tomorrow’s protocol:
1. Generate a list of random number 10-56. Distribute evenly divided lists of these numbers to the 2 groups of 2 people participating. Walk the rows of the common garden in the perscribed order with one person on each side of the row, scanning the row for Agapostemon virescens
2. When a bee is sighted, paint a circle circle on its thorax. After painting radio/yell to the other group and relay the color used, so as to avoid doubling up on colors.
3. Record data for each painted bee into the pendragon form on the visor

Depending on the success of our painting efforts in the morning, we will maybe begin to collect data for home range and population size estimates.