It took bee expert Mike Arduser about seven months to discover all the bee species living in two small patches of nature preserve in Kansas City.
But with a net and a lot of patience, he found something unexpected: 89 different bee species – including two never before seen in Missouri – pollinating flowering plants.
The surprising diversity is good news for conservationists because many of the bees evolved to fill narrow niches and serve vital roles in pollinating specific native plants.
“Bee populations in and around our cities are quite healthy in that cities provide a real refuge or oasis, if you will, for pollinators,” says Larry Rizzo, a natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation and a member of the steering committee of Kansas City Wildlands, a program of Kansas City-based Bridging the Gap.
Kansas City Wildlands enlisted Arduser, a biologist who’s retired from the Missouri Department of Conservation, to conduct the survey, with support from the Burroughs Audubon Club and Westport Garden Club.
Arduser visited 360-acre Jerry Smith Park Prairie, at 139th Street west of Prospect Avenue, and Swope Park’s Rocky Point Glades, a series of limestone glades tucked away in Camp Lake of the Woods, regularly between April and October 2016.
Among the bees he found were various species of digger bees, bumblebees, sweat bees and leaf-cutter bees.
Rizzo says many efforts to preserve habitats focus on large spaces. The abundance of bees found in these preserves demonstrates the role small spaces can play, he says.
“It points to what we can do as individuals with a backyard native plant garden. There’s a lot of value in that. We can support a lot of pollinator species in relatively small plantings,” Rizzo says.
In recent years, the decline of honeybee populations has concerned many environmentalists. But Rizzo says the health of many lesser-known bees, including those found in the Kansas City survey, is just as vital.
He says Kansas City Wildlands hopes to conduct similar surveys in other part of the area, including the state of Kansas, in the future.
Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR