Brigham Young University and Manti-La Sal NF Begin Bee Research

Bee hives in research enclosure on forest.

Beehives in enclosure at Stevens Creek on the Manti-La Sal National Forest

The Manti-La Sal National Forest and Brigham Young University have been working together to design and implement a multi-year study to explore the community effects of honey bees on native pollinators in a tall-forb plant community. BYU will be evaluating the impact of introducing hives of honey bees on native bee community richness and abundance on the Wasatch Plateau of Central Utah.

This study is a response to concern over colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees. One factor thought to contribute to CCD is the occurrence of pesticides in the environment, especially from agricultural lands and urban landscapes. Since bees need natural floral resources with minimal exposure to agrochemicals and pollutants, National Forests could be an important range for managed honey bees.

While honey production and summering range on National Forest System lands has appeal, the ecological and population-level impact of introducing large quantities of non-native bees to the native bee communities is uncertain (Mallinger et al. 2017), (Hatfield et al. 2018).  There are concerns about potential negative impacts of managed hives to native bees and the fact that many native bees are quite rare and may be susceptible to possible local and regional extinctions.

To evaluate the impact of honey bees, the BYU team has selected 18 tall-forb sites across the Wasatch Plateau for the study. The sites were selected for their similarity in size and vegetative composition. All will be at an elevation of approximately 9,500-10,000 feet. Bee abundance and richness will be evaluated over a five-year period. The first year has yielded a bee compositional baseline. Honey bee hives were introduced to the plots this year and will continue for three more summers.

This study could serve as a model for expected results for other mountain ranges in the Intermountain West.

Lead investigators in the project are R.L. Johnson and V.J. Anderson.