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December 18, 2023

44 Minutes

Guests: Rich Hatfield

Tags: bees, pollinators, staff guests,

No bee is as popular as the honey bee. When we think of a bee, many of us think of this charismatic social bee that lives in large colonies, does the wiggle dance, produces the honey we love, and pollinates many of our crops. Although honey bees can be found all over North America, they only arrived in the seventeenth century by way of European settlers. Aside from honey bees, in North America, thousands of native bees can be found on the landscape. We’ve all heard that bees are in decline. As a non-native species, are honey bees the answer to helping us “save the bees”? How do honey bees interact with our native bees on the landscape? 

Guest Information

Rich Hatfield is Xerces Senior Endangered Species Conservation Biologist and Bumble Bee Conservation Lead, and manages all aspects of the Xerces Society’s work on bumble bees. This includes community science projects, as well as understanding the threats to bumble bees and actions we can take to protect them. Rich has studied the factors that impact bumble bees, including the presence of honey bees in our landscapes.

Show Notes & Links

In this episode, we cover the origins of honey bees in North America, their role in agriculture, and their impact on native bees. 

Transcript

Rachel: Welcome to Bug Banter with the Xerces Society where we explore the world of invertebrates and how to help these extraordinary animals. If you want to support our work go to Xerces.org/donate.

Rachel: Hi, I'm Rachel in Missoula, Montana.

Matthew: I’m Matthew in Portland, Oregon.

Rachel: No bee is as popular as the honey bee. When we think of a bee, many of us think of this charismatic social bee that lives in large colonies, does the wiggle dance, produces the honey we love, and pollinates many of our crops. Although honey bees can be found all over North America, they only arrived in the 17th century by way of European settlers. Aside from honey bees, in North America, thousands of native bees can be found on the landscape.

Rachel: We’ve all heard that bees are in decline. As a non-native species, are honey bees the answer to helping us “save the bees”? How do honey bees interact with our native bees on the landscape? 

Rachel: Joining us to help answer these questions is Rich Hatfield. Rich is Xerces Senior Endangered Species Conservation Biologist and Bumble Bee Conservation Lead, and manages all aspects of the Xerces Society’s work on bumble bees. This includes community science projects, as well as understanding the threats to bumble bees and actions we can take to protect them. Rich has studied the factors that impact bumble bees, including the presence of honey bees in our landscapes.Welcome, Rich. We're happy to have you today.

Rich: Yeah. It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Matthew: Let's jump straight in, shall we Rich. Many people are surprised to learn that the honey bees are not native to the US. Can you tell us why they were originally brought here?

Rich: I can't tell you why they were brought here, but I can speculate and speculate potentially with some evidence. If you think about all the way back to the 1600s, it's obviously pre-electricity and pre-a lot of global trade and a lot of other things that we have now and honey bees, as we all know, produce a number of products.

Rich: I think normally we think of them as providing honey as being sort of the main source of product that we would get from honey bees and so that was certainly important to people. You know sugar was not an option back then. There was not a global sugar trade at least that I'm aware of.

Rich: So, honey was a major sweetener that was used for probably all kinds of things. It's also very likely that people were making mead from that honey so that they could have an alcoholic beverage. It was one of the first alcoholic beverages and goes back as you all know thousands of years so likely mead was an important product that we were consuming being on a boat for a long time and then being in a new continent came with it struggles and humans as we all know like to self-medicate so I'm sure that was part of it.

Rich: And then, in addition to honey and the mead that would come from that honey, wax products were also probably quite important. You know, there wasn’t any electricity so we didn't have lights. So, people were taking that wax and, likely making candles and other products from that wax as well to make their lives, easier and better. So that's why we believe they were brought here and you know there's some evidence of a fairly robust honey and mostly wax trade that was happening in those first couple 100 years.

Rich: So like sort of the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s, there's evidence of a fairly robust. Like if you look back at trade logs, there's a fair bit of wax that changed hands back in those days. It was a valuable resource.

Matthew: I remember reading once that, at some point in the medieval era wax was potentially more valuable than gold. And that some people got paid in wax. As part of their annual payment. So, we just don't think of that being such an important resource.

Matthew: But, certainly back then it would have been literally the light, right? So, quite important.

Rachel: So, we often use the terms native and non-native and I think it's important to define what that means in our context of what we're referring to when we talk about honey bees. Can you explain what the difference is between a native and non-native species?

Rich: I can try. I can certainly give you what my thought is. That doesn't mean that everyone's necessarily going to agree with my thoughts on this because humans, frankly, have been moving animals and plants around this planet for a really, really long time.

Rich: But as a conservation biologist, I sort of think of native plants and animals as those that were here without the assistance of humans. Humans didn't move them here. So, honey bees as we know them, at least for the most part I think we're talking about the Western Honey Bee, Apis mellifera.

Rich: That species was not on this continent until European settlers brought it here, which makes it an introduced, non-native species as of the 1600s. We could argue about whether it has become naturalized since then or what role that has in our current ecosystem, but, I don't think there's any person that would argue that humans brought the Western honey bee to North America. They're introduced here. So, they're a non-native species and that's how I would define them at least as it pertains to this conversation.

Matthew: Another thing that we often read or hear in the media is that honey bees are threatened or endangered. Is that true?

Rich: Well, I think depends on how we use those terms threatened and endangered. I think there's no question that honey bees are struggling, right? If we look at the health of the honey bee industry and if we look at how honey bee keepers think about their industry and their hives.

Rich: I think there's a lot of people that would tell you that honey bees are struggling. And they're certainly not as healthy as they used to be. I think you can talk to honey beekeepers who used to say it was very regular for a hive to live for 5, 7 years without much indication and I think, at least my understanding, is that that's not true anymore, that you're lucky to get a couple of years out of a hive.

Rich: But, what I think of as a conservation biologist, when I think about something being threatened or endangered, that means we're starting to think about extinction and whether that animal could potentially disappear from the planet forever, right? Extinction is forever. And in that regard, honey bees are not threatened and they are not endangered.

Rich: In fact, there are probably more honey bees on the planet now than there have ever been. Because they still are thriving or at least they're existing throughout all of their historic range, which is Africa and most of Europe into Western Asia. They're also propagated by agriculture, I believe, on every continent on the planet except for Antarctica where there probably have been honey bees but probably are not honey bees all the time.

Rich: There are literally millions of hives all over the world, probably tens of millions and potentially even hundreds of millions. I don't have the statistics in front of me. But from that perspective, honey bees are in a situation right now where they're still fairly resilient.

Rich: They're not going to go through at least in what I can see is the near future, although the future gets scary when we start thinking too much about it, but I don't anticipate a population crash in that species that would lead to an extinction event. So, I would not define them as threatened or endangered.

Matthew: There are some bees that you would define in that way.

Rich: Yes, there are. I mean unfortunately, we don't have as good of data on insects as I wish that we did. Like when we look at mammals and birds, I think we have fairly good population numbers that we can track through time and look at trends. We don't have those same data with insects, with most bees, but with bumble bees, we do have a fairly robust data set that goes back to the 1800s, and we can look at how common species used to be versus how common or rare they are now.

Rich: And the indication we have from the data we have suggests that around a quarter of our bumble bees are significantly rarer now than they used to be. And A few of those are potentially on the brink of extinction, the rusty patch bumble bee, which lives roughly or once upon a time, still lives roughly from North Dakota to Maine down to Georgia used to be one of the top, probably 5 most common bumble bees in Eastern North America and it’s gone through around a 90% population decline. It's disappeared from 90% of its historic range and where we find it, it's much less common than it used to be.

Rich: Here in the western United States, the western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, has gone through a similar decline, maybe not quite as deep, but it's disappeared from a significant portion of its range and where we find it. It's not as common as it used to be.

Rich: And then probably the most extreme example, at least that I'm aware of, is a bumble bee called Franklin's bumble bee, which historically lived in a pretty small range from southern Oregon down to Northern California. Roughly from Mount Ashland to Mount Shasta if you're familiar with this part of the world.

Rich: And that species, Bombus franklin, hasn't been seen since 2006. Both Franklin's bumble bee and the rusty patch bumble bee are federally listed, so they're actually listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. They have federal protection. So, there's been significant effort to look for and to try to protect both of those species. That effort has led to a fair bit of additional finds of populations for the rusty patch bumble bees.

Rich: So, we know we didn't used to see it at all in Western West Virginia and Virginia and populations have popped up there with the increased effort looking for it which is good. It's still rare, it's still in decline, but the endangered species act is working, and then it's finding new populations so that we can help them recover.

Rich: Those efforts at least as of yet have not turned up any Franklin's bumble bees. So that bumble bee has still not been detected. There are some people that would tell you that it may potentially be extinct. I still have hope that our increased efforts to find it in a really remote and wild area of the country will be successful and that we will be able to find that needle in a haystack and help that species recover.

Rich: But it's exceedingly rare and, even if we do find it a single event could wipe out the remaining populations, right? So that's how we have to think about these things. And, that's just bumble bees. There are species that have restricted ranges or that have gone through some disease event that leads to true threat of extinction. We just have the best data, or at least, I'm most aware of the data on bumble bees because that's where my taxonomic focus is.

Rachel: Well, Rich, I'm glad we're going to have you back in March to do another podcast specific to bumble bees because I have like a hundred questions that I want to ask you.

Rachel: But since we're focusing on honey bees today, thank you for kind of giving us that paralleled picture of how our native bees are doing versus these introduced honey bees. So, despite the fact that they are an introduced species, you've already kind of hinted to that helpfulness and the usefulness of the honey bee and that's probably why they originally were brought to the US.

Rachel: So, in terms of today, what is their role in the US? Because they do have an important role here in terms of crop pollination.

Rich: Yeah, there's a lot there, Rachel. It's a good question. There's a lot too that we can talk about. You know, when we originally talk about why honey bees were brought here, it was for wax and for honey, we didn't talk about pollination services. It wasn't really until quite a bit later, probably the late 1800s. I think it actually may have been the early 1900s.

Rich: I don't have my facts straight here, but it wasn't really until we sort of invented ways to move honey bees around easily in boxes and have removable hive drawers that we started moving honey bees around fairly regularly. And then I'm starting to understand in much more detail how important they are to pollination services. I think that we've known that insects are important for pollination probably since the 1700s or something like that. It's been studied and looked at.

Rich: But I don't think we necessarily tried to take advantage of honey bees for that until, much later. Until keeping honey bees and moving them around became much easier. But, since then, since the 1800’s or 1900’s and in the agricultural and population boom that's happened throughout our country, honey bees have been a part of that story for a very long time. And a lot of our agricultural systems are built around honey bee pollination services for the most part.

Rich: A lot of farmers depend on renting or buying or having their own honey bees such that their crops can get pollinated. Which happens throughout much of California, in a fairly early part of the year, when most of our native bees aren't even flying yet. There's no real way to get that crop pollinated unless we bring honey bees into the state of California. 

Rich: So, the agriculture and the almond industry brings a lot of commercial honey bees from all over the country as far away as New England, all the way to California, you know, just for the purposes of pollinating those almonds. So, for a couple of weeks in February, they're in California doing that pollination service. And that industry probably wouldn't exist without Honey bees. And then they slowly make their way back.

Rich: They go through the Midwest, and probably participate in an apple pollination, and hit other sources on an apple pollination, and hit other sources on their way back home where they would participate in an apple pollination, and hit other sources on their way back home where they would over winter.

Rich: But I think it's important to just step back if I may just say while our current agricultural system is dependent on honey bees, I don't think it needs to be that way, right? I think we could create a system that was different if we thought about our farming from a true sustainable perspective.

Rich: There are ways to grow crops such that there's enough native habitat nearby that we can have our native bees do a vast majority of the pollination services. There are plenty of studies out there that show that for a lot of crops. But, if we did a better job of maintaining habitat on the landscape, that we could have native bees doing that pollination for free and in some cases, even increase the yield.

Rich: Coming from those farm fields, even if some of it's take a production. To to increase habitat for bees. So again, there's a lot here that we could talk about. But yes, honey bees are very important for our current agricultural system.

Rich: I think we need to do a better job of maintaining those agricultural landscapes to make them healthier for honey bees such that that whole industry can be healthier. There's a lot of pesticides in modern agriculture. That's not good for honey bees. It's not good for native bees. And so, I think we need to think long and hard about the kind of agricultural systems that we're creating and the insects that are necessary for them, and how we create a better long-term solution to that. I don't pretend to have the answers. I don't work directly in farming.

Rich: I talk to a lot of farmers but I think it's a question that should at least be on the table. We should be having the conversation as often as we possibly can, which is why I tried to weave it into this conversation or to the question that that you asked.

Rachel: And I think based on what you've said, honey bees are livestock essentially. So, what would their role be in a natural area like a natural park or public land in a place where their purpose isn't to pollinate our food or our crops.

Matthew: This also leads into the next thought that I had, which is, you know, there are thousands of species of bees native to North America. Most places you'll find dozens. In your garden, maybe hundreds in a natural area, different species.

Matthew: Some people think that we'll be okay if we just keep the honey bee, you know, like the honey bee can do everything, but, it seems like natural areas, for example, are an area where we really need all of that diversity of bees.

Rich: I think the short answer is that our natural areas here in North America don't need honey bees, for the most part. That’s where our native bees, that's the last refuge for them that aren't sprayed with insecticides, but still have native flowers that still have the habitat that they need. That's the last refuge for them. So, we should probably be trying to keep honey bees out and we could talk more about why that is like what potential threats that honey bees have to native bees. 

Rich: So, that's why I think honey bees don't belong in native areas, because that’s where our native bees need to be. That's the last refuge for them. The question of whether natural areas, or why natural areas maybe aren't so compatible with honey bees is a bit different.

Rich: But the main reason there is that honey bees, there's 10,000 to 50,000 animals that are living in a hive, right? And they're trying to support each other. They're collecting pollen and nectar, not for us, they're collecting it for themselves, right? So, they're trying to get as much as they possibly can to help their populations grow, to reproduce and to have food to eat during the wintertime.

Rich: I think a lot of people don't know that. That's why honey bees make honey. So that they actually have food to eat during the winter time when there are no flowers blooming. Our native bees have a different strategy.

Rich: They all hibernate, they sleep through the winters, they don't need honey. So that's what honey bees are trying to do is make as much honey as they possibly can, have as much pollen on board as they can as a reserve in case things go wrong, or it gets cold, or they need to eat when there aren't flowers available.

Rich: So, because of that, honey bees are really good at exploiting really abundant resources. Think about a crop field. You've got a field that's full of flowers that are exactly the same. It's a perfect system for a honey bee. They can learn how to extract as much pollen and nectar from that one flower and then repeat it literally millions of times as a hive.

Rich: That is the system that honey bees strive on. They can become really efficient, do it quickly, they can tell each other where the flowers are and go back and forth as many times as they possibly can and voila, you've got a healthy, 50,000 worker system that's thriving. A natural area is a very different landscape than a farm field. There are ideally hundreds of different flowers out there.

Rich: Those flowers are in lots of different sizes and shapes. Some of those shapes are so small that a honey bee can't even land on it, right? If it does, it's going to fall on the ground because the stalk of the flower can't hold it up.

Rich: But a lot of our native bees are tiny, they're ant sized so they can easily go into those little flowers and even bumble bees are obviously using similar flowers to honey bees and when there are 10,000 to 50,000 honey bees flying around a natural area visiting all the flowers it changes which flowers our native bees are going to and that alters pollination networks and changes which flowers are successful and it changes how hard native bees have to work to get their food. Which ultimately, if you increase the cost of getting food, your reproductive rates are going to go down. It changes that over time. So, this hasn't been the most straightforward or coherent answer to your questions.

Rich: I've thrown a lot of things sort of back at you, but I think you get to understand the gist of what I'm getting at is that honey bees really don't have a role in natural areas. They're not needed for the pollination services. And in fact, their presence can be disruptive to both the plant populations and the native bee populations that exist there.

Matthew: You gave us a really broad picture of what's happening out there which normally we're just not aware of.

Rachel: But, I think aside from in natural areas like Matthew had brought up, if we go in our backyard and we see, you know, a lot of different types of bees, including both native and the honey bee, do they compete in in urban habitats as well? Not just in natural areas? 

Rich: Yes, there is no question. If you look at any sort of book, or scientific paper, for a sort of anecdote that looks at bee decline, habitat loss is the major one people are talking about. Lack of flowers on the landscape. If there aren't enough flowers on the landscape to feed bees, which I think we all think is true at least at a gross scale, varies from place to place, then putting more honey bees on the landscape with the same number of flowers creates more competition for limited resources, and I think it's fair to say that.

Rich: There are probably some places and there are probably some situations like different times of the year where it's less of a concern, like in the middle of summer in the Pacific Northwest. Where we just have flowers in a lot of places. I don't want to say everywhere because that's not true, but it's probably less of a concern.

Rich: There are probably enough resources out there that the system isn't pollen limited. But you have to remember that honey bees, I just told you, they over-winter by eating honey and so, come springtime, there's 10,000 hungry mouths to feed that you know they've depleted the resources maybe if we took their honey and give it Wendy did when feeding on corn syrup for a while, right?

Rich: They're starved as soon as flowers start to bloom. Those animals are out there on those flowers right away. So, that's the times of year where things really get concerning, for our Queen bumble bees that are out there trying to feed. If there's already a hive of honey bees out there taking those resources, you're just making it harder for that queen bumble bee or that solitary ground nesting bee that's trying to feed her kids all by herself. She has to work harder or if they have to work harder to establish their nests.

Rich: It's just another added straw to the camel's back, right? Another thing that we don't need to be doing to our native bees if we don't have to, and I think that's the real take home message is that nobody has to have honey bees in their backyard.

Rich: There are fine reasons to do it. Wax as we've decided and honey are both really cool, and they're cool animals, there's no doubt that honey bees are just beautiful. They're fun to watch. They're amazing to interact with. I have friends that are beekeepers and it's a cool experience to be surrounded by them. But, it's not conservation. It’s just not conservation. I think that's what people really need to take home.

Rich: If you want to help, getting a honey beehive and putting it in your backyard is not helping, it's potentially harming. There are other things that you can do to help. Plant flowers, create habitat, stop using pesticides, buy organic agriculturally produced foods. We can vote with our dollars, we can put habits out in the ground. We can do a lot of other things that are probably better than getting a honey beehive.

Rachel: So, I have a follow up question. You kind of answered our next few questions actually, which is great. But, aside from competition for floral resources, are there any other impacts that honey bees have on our native bees? Another follow-up question to that is for beekeepers who are listening, what can they do if they're already beekeeping. If they're doing it for honey, or for whatever reason, is there anything they could do to offset that impact?

Rich: Yeah. To answer your first question about other impacts. The answer is yes. The major other threat that we know that exists is disease transfer. So, there are a bunch of diseases in the bee world, just like there are in the human world, and honey bees have been shown to be able to transmit diseases from themselves to our native bees.

Rich: So, they're introducing diseases to them, but they're also just amplifying them on the landscape. Right? If you imagine that there's a flower out there somewhere with a disease on It, and the honey bee visits it, and then it brings that disease back to the hive and it then gives that disease to 10,000 or 50,000 other bees that are flying over the landscape, and then all of a sudden you have all these vectors that are moving this disease and putting it on flowers instead of just one flower. Now it's on 50,000 flowers in the landscape.

Rich: All of a sudden, the potential for a native bee to transmit or to get that disease is higher. So that's what we're seeing happening is both that honey bees are moving and also, as we take a honey bee on a truck from California back to Vermont, we’re moving diseases long distances and potentially taking different variants to different parts of the country and introducing potentially novel pathogens, all over the country.

Rich: I think that's the major concern is disease transfer and transmission and it's a fairly unregulated industry. You can move honey bees across state lines and they'll often look for macro-diseases like mites and other things that you can see, but most of these diseases I'm talking about are like RNA viruses or small bacteria or small fungal pathogens that aren't detectable by looking at a hive, they're just in there. So, that's another major concern. These honey bees are moving diseases around. I don't want to overstate my knowledge, but my understanding is also that I believe some commercial beekeepers, because of the disease issue, are becoming increasingly concerned about backyard beekeeping. Because a lot of backyard beekeepers don't do quite do as good a job at managing these sorts of diseases in the honey bee world. So, some of these backyard honey bees are actually more diseased in some ways than the commercial bees. Again, I'm not a hundred percent sure about this, but I've heard and read anecdotal reports about this.

Rich: So, you know, I think even the honey bee world has some concerns about disease transfer in this regard. I'm sure it's on their radar and that they're thinking about it. But it's definitely a concern when we talk about transmission to our native bees as well.

Rich: You had another question, and I can't remember it. What was it?

Rachel: So many questions. Beekeepers, what can they do to offset that impact for native bees?

Rich: I think I was getting at it at the end there. I think people can really educate themselves and find the best way to keep the healthiest hive that they possibly can. I'm not the right source for that. And I don't think Xerces in general is the right source for that. I think there are beekeeping associations all over the country that can help you do this really well. But, I think if you're going to do it, you ought to take it really seriously and do the best possible job that you can to keep your animals healthy and to make sure that you're therefore keeping the pollinator community healthy where you have your hive. I wouldn't move it around. There’s no reason to set it up to end of the forest in the summer or anything like try to keep it in one spot would be another best practice as far as I'm concerned.

Rich: And then plant flowers. I think it's somewhere between a half-acre and a full acre of habitat is how much a honey bee needs, or a honey bee colony needs to be successful. That's larger than any urban lot that I know of.

Rich: People ought to be planting flowers. As many as they can. If you've got honey bees and green grass, you should probably convert that green grass to habitat. At least plant a lot of clover growing within that green grass. I think those are really the best things that you can do. I would also just encourage that people talk to their neighbors about these issues. One honey bee in one backyard is different than like 15 people living adjacent to each other that all have honey bee hives in their backyard, right?

Rich: That all of a sudden increases the competitive impact of those species dramatically. So, trying to spread that out would be good. I just think we need to be having these conversations as communities and really thinking about the best ways to move forward are. It makes me think of, not to overly promote programs, but it makes me think of our bee cities and our bee campuses, how they're just great networks for policy development around this, about how can we really create a system that's supportive of those people that do want to be backyard beekeepers, which I think is okay as long as you're doing it for the right reason.

Rich: How do we create a system that works for them that also works for our native bees and our native pollinators? If anybody's against having healthy pollinator communities, they've got, you know, they've got a shift. So, I think we can all be on board to try to work together to find the best ways to do this. I think we just need to have those open conversations with each other and I don’t think beekeepers need to be shamed because they're beekeepers. It’s fine to be a beekeeper. People have dogs, right? Dogs have negative environmental impacts. Cats. Cats kill millions of birds a year, so we can all coexist. There are good reasons to have dogs and cats and honey bees. I think we just need to have open conversations about it and find best practices together.

Matthew: Yeah, this, this has been great, Rich. My next question was going to be, if someone doesn't have a backyard hive, doesn’t want to be a beekeeper. What can they do to help bees? I know you've touched on to some of that already, but is there more detail you wanted to add to what you'd already said? If someone wants to “save the bees” without introducing a non-native species. What can they do?

Rich: I mean, habitat is the number one answer, Matthew. If you own land or you rent property that has land, that has space that you can interact with, create messy, flowery landscapes as much as you possibly can, is what I would say. Have fun growing a bunch of native plants and grow the weirdest ones you can and just have fun with it.

Rich: You can do that in your backyard and have your front yard look nice and tidy for those neighbors that walk past or however you want to do it but yeah, just have fun creating habitat. Is that the best thing that you can probably do is just be messy and have fun with it. And document who comes like it's a build it and they will come scenario which I think is one of the coolest things about it.

Rich: Like you've got a wildlife safari just waiting for you in your backyard, and create the template to watch and make that happen. I recognize that a lot of people don't have don't have the luxury of managing habitat and can't grow a field of flowers, and those people, I would encourage to think about how they're spending every resource that they possibly can. Where are you buying honey? Try to buy your honey from a beekeeper. Go to a farmer's market to find your honey. Have a relationship with the person you're getting honey from.

Rich: They'll feel better about it. You can feel better about it and have a conversation about what that's like for them. Likewise, with all of your food. What kind of agricultural system are we as a society going to promote?

Rich: I know a lot of people are struggling right now to pay the bills. I know the grocery prices have gone up. I know it's not easy for everybody. I know that people are struggling, but I think that we as a society need to decide where we want to spend our dollars, and I think spending dollars on sustainably produced food is one of the best investments that you can possibly make.

Rich: It's more important than the next widget that's going come out from Acme company. I think we need to really think about those resources and how we as a community want to spend them and if you have the resources or want to think about spending them on sustainable agricultural practices. That's the best possible thing that we can all be doing, is really investing heavily in a sustainable future to feed ourselves. In my opinion.

Matthew: That's great. And thank you, Rich. It's been a great conversation. I really enjoy tapping into your depth of knowledge about conservation, the insight you gave us into the complexity of this issue and also so many aspects of it. This was great for our listeners.

Rich: Can I just say one more thing? We’ve had kind of a broad conversation and most of it has been related to honey bees. I know that. A lot of people also invest in masonry as a thing and I guess I would just say as a general practice from my perspective Mason bees, these are great too.

Rich: They're super fun and you can have a ton of fun with them, but there's no reason to ever, as far as I'm concerned, there's no reason to be buying any bee and moving it around, right? There are opportunities to create habitat, which would promote the opportunity for Mason bees to nest in your yard, but you don't need to buy Mason bees to do that.

Rich: You put out the habitat, again, let's create the habitat and let the safari come to us, rather than trying to create the safari by moving animals around. I just think since we're having a conversation that's kind of related, I think the issues around Mason bees are probably less well-known, but potentially equally as problematic, that it's worth at least just mentioning. So, I appreciate. The opportunity to step back on my soapbox for a second.

Matthew: No, of course. That's what this podcast is all about, is giving people that soapbox moment where they can share great knowledge, and great ideas. So, thank you. I know for many of our listeners who might want to learn more, we can always recommend people go to the Xerces.org website where there's gardening advice, plant lists, more reading about honey bees, etc.

Matthew: You had mentioned, Bee City, Bee Campus, and you were concerned that maybe it's self-promotion but we're all into shameless self-promotion here. It's alright. We do have one more question for you. Rachel, it's her favorite question, she asks everybody.

Rachel: It is my favorite question, but I also wanted to both of you were horns because you both put out a honey bee publication that talks about why saving the bees like getting a hive won't save the bees and I think it's a great publication and if people have you know friends that they want to have this conversation with. You know, go to our website and look it up and it’s a great resource with a lot of great information.

Rachel: My favorite question Rich, I have to be honest, I ask this question because of you. Because I asked you this a long time ago and I still remember your answer and it stuck with me, so I was like I'm going to ask everyone this question so I'll have to come up with a different question for you in March when you come back. But, if you could tell our audience your inspiring story about what made you want to study bees. When did you get hooked into studying bees?

Rich: Gotcha. Feels like a lot of pressure, no. Okay, I appreciate that. I’ll probably give you the same answer. I didn't grow up being a kid that chases bugs around my backyard, it wasn't my upbringing.

Rich: Science was kind of something I discovered later in life. I really just wanted to make the world a better place. I was trying to figure out how to do that. My early degree was actually in political science. So, I thought a lot about influence and how do we talk to lawmakers and policy makers in ways that they'll listen?

Rich: Economics was a major player there, I recognize that it probably was. And so, I became interested in bees because of pollination services and that we could put an economic value on their presence in the world.

Rich: That was kind of my interest originally, but I was super young and bright-eyed and bushy tailed and I just kind of walked into the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University and just said I want to volunteer. I want someone to take me on and I want to help in whatever way I can and Dr. Claire Kremlen, took me on and said, sure, you can help me and I spent a winter typing some old reference material into an Excel spreadsheet so she could do some analysis and then she hired me on to be on her field crew which was in UC Davis in the Kapay Valley looking at watermelon pollination. It was one of the early studies that sort of looked at the pollination services of native bees and tried to address that question, “if we have enough habitat, can native bees actually provide pollination services instead of honey bees?”

Rich: I think it was my first day out in the field. I was walking with Dr. Robin Thorpe who, God bless his soul, one of the most wonderful men I've ever had the opportunity to interact with, he passed away a couple years ago, but was a you know, 25-year mentor of mine. We were just walking through this watermelon field, squash field, and he said come here, and he like pulled me over and he bent over and he picked up this Squash flower, which they're open very early in the morning, and then they close and they're closed for the rest of the day. He picked this flower up and he just put it right in my face and he just opened it up, and about 15 squash bees, male squash bees in the genus peponapis just came flying out of this flower right into my face and it was just one of the coolest experiences I have ever had and I think it was literally that moment that I felt I didn't just see the practical aspect of studying these, but I fell in love with the animal and it's been a pretty great ride ever since then.

Rachel: Yeah, that was the story.

Rich: Maybe you can ask me again and people forgot and I'll tell it differently.

Matthew: I was going to say, Rich. I've worked with you for quite a few years now, but I didn't know that was your origin. I knew you had a really close relationship with Robin, but didn't know that was your first meeting. I know that research that was published from that study in the Waters, and it was kind of foundational to so much that's come since, and there you were out in the field.

Rich: Yeah, I collected a lot of that data. It was definitely a seminal study that came out at the time. It’s kind of opened the door to a lot of what's happened and I owe a lot of where I am to Robin and Claire. Just wonderful people, wonderful scientists, and wonderful mentors. They were both great to me. I feel really lucky to have knocked on that door that day.

Matthew: Yeah, that is amazing. Wow.

Rachel: Well, thank you so much, Rich, for your time today. I'm really looking forward to having you back again in March to talk about bumble bees and we hope that our listeners enjoyed this podcast. Thank you again, Rich.

Matthew: Bug Banter is brought to you by the Xerces Society, a donor supported non-profit that works to protect insects and other invertebrates – the life that sustains us. 

Matthew: If you’re already a donor, thank you so much. If you want to support our work go to xerces.org/donate. For information about this podcast and show notes go to xerces.org/bugbanter.