The Effect of AWS' Meadow Restoration on Bee Populations

By Emily Morrow and Jason Martin

As someone who used to get stung at least once every summer throughout my childhood, I’ve never been the biggest fan of bees. But after interning at AWS my opinion may have been altered, I’ve learned about the benefits of bees and the work AWS is doing in order to promote and increase bee species.

Despite the bad press bees get, they’re actually more of a benefit than a nuisance. Bees are important pollinators for our plants and, without them, researchers suspect that one-third of our agricultural crops could fail (Baker). Without bees, many of our flowering plants could not produce the important fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we rely on for food (Smith). Almost 100 types of crops require pollination by honeybees and, economically speaking, researchers estimate that the economic value of work done by bees is $215 billion worldwide and $14 billion in the United States alone (Cox-Foster).

Bombus griseocollis

Unfortunately, there has been a recent decline of bee populations all over the world. The main reason for much of this decline is habitat destruction. Other reasons include disease and parasites. Honeybees have been hit particularly hard by a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD was first identified in 2006 and since then the US Department of Agriculture estimates that there has been a 30 percent drop in US honeybee populations each winter (as compared to a normal winter loss of only 10 percent) and this number is expected to increase. Some predicted causes of CCD include poor nutrition and pesticides--if plants are not producing enough pollen for bees to eat they can experience poor nutrition and pesticides can poison bees, both resulting in a higher susceptibility to disease and viruses (Smith).

Research indicates that the solution lies in restoring the balance to pollinator habitat and planting a mix of crops and meadows as opposed to large stretches of mowed grass or just single plants; plants that flower at different times of the year are beneficial to bees by keeping them well-nourished year-round (Cox-Foster).

This is what AWS has attempted to do with our meadow restoration project (pictured above) at the ARMR (Anacostia Riparian Meadow Restoration) site near Magruder Park. On one side of the river the Army Corps of Engineers created a levee blocking the river’s overflow from adjacent neighborhoods. This side of the river has been continuously mowed and extensively sprayed with herbicides. This side is also home to poor species variety and a large incidence of “blonde death” -- after plants are continually mowed and sprayed with herbicides they turn a light brown/blonde color, signifying their death. In the past several years AWS has worked on the opposite side of the river is restore the meadow by planting a variety of native plant species. The meadow restoration has been very successful, particularly on the North end of the site, and has led to an increase of bee populations.

Megachile rotundata

Jason Martin, a biology student at Towson University who was an AWS intern in the summer of 2012, conducted research on the number of bees and bee species observed in the ARMR site as opposed to the mowed and sprayed areas. The study reviewed six sites along the Northwest Branch. Three were meadow areas at different stages of rehabilitation ranging from untouched to invasive plants removed to the fully rehabilitated ARMR site and three were mowed areas directly across the branch from each meadow area. The ARMR site attracted the most bees with 27 percent of the total bees caught and 94 percent of the species diversity. The closest mowed area to the ARMR site only attracted 13 percent of the total bees caught and 68 percent of the species diversity. These results clearly show that the ARMR site, being a fully restored meadow with native flowering plants, works for attracting not only more bees but more bee species than the traditional mowed levee sites.

This kind of project is an example of why I enjoy being an AWS intern. Diminishing of bee populations caused by habitat destruction is a global problem that can be solved at a local scale. AWS, with our meadow restoration project, not only helps facilitate bee populations and increase native species diversity along the Anacostia River, it also educates the people who live in the Anacostia Watershed on the benefits of bees and meadow restoration.


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