Rusty patched bumble bee and more bee spottings on the increase at the USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Contact(s): Veronica Hinke

News Release: ONU Assist. Prof. D. Derek Rosenberger

In 2017, a challenge cost-share agreement was established between Olivet Nazarene University and the USDA Forest Service to study bee life at Midewin, including whether the Federally listed endangered rusty patched bumble bee (the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be declared endangered - 2017) is present on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. ONU monitors have been active for three seasons. They spotted two rusty patched bumble bees last year – and their studies year-over-year have provided information about a variety of other species of bumble bees and their life habits.

The data that ONU Assistant Professor Dr. Derek Rosenberger and students have been tracking helps measure how the restoration work of Midewin volunteers, partners and staff is helping to bring back habitat for native Illinois prairie species. At Midewin, we are working with over 275 species of native Illinois prairie plants in an effort to encourage the return of native prairie species, including bees.

Benefits of the monitoring partnership are tremendous to all involved. “ONU students are gaining real-world ecological sampling experience,” Dr. Rosenberger said. “Being involved instills a sense of project ownership in the students and they can contribute to the greater local and regional knowledge of a federally listed endangered species.”

Monitors look for bees in 100-meter transects. They spend 30 minutes in each transect. Barb Krupa, an undergraduate zoology major at ONU, is active at Midewin as often as three days weekly, depending on weather.

A recent Friday morning, July 26, began chillier than usual, and Dr. Rosenberger arrived at the Iron Bridge Trailhead concerned that the colder temps might affect bee activity and throw off the count a bit for the day. He explained that bees prefer temperatures generally in the 80s. Temperatures warmed that day, and Dr. Rosenberger’s trip to Midewin resulted in many bee sightings on the Iron Bridge Prairie and on the South Patrol Road Prairie.

In addition to rusty patched bumble bee sightings, brown-belted, black and gold and common eastern bumble bees were the most numerous and consistent species spotted (listed in descending order). In late July 2018, bumble bees were seen in nearly all transects, with varying levels at each one.    

ONU recently released a report on the findings from 2018 monitoring, “A survey of bumble bees at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie with special focus on the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee, bombus affinis.” The report is available online, here:

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