It is easy to appreciate the array of wildflowers that add so much color to Pinnacles National Park. Less appreciated, but no less amazing, are the bees that so many of those flowers depend on for pollination. As pollinators, bees play a crucial role in sustaining whole ecosystems, not to mention human agriculture. Pinnacles is interested in learning more about its bees so it can better protect them and their habitat.
A late-90s study by the Logan Bee Lab at Utah State University found about 400 species of bees in Pinnacles National Park. Incredibly, that is one fourth of all of the bee species in California, and more bee species per unit area than any place on Earth ever studied. Ranging from miniscule to thumb-sized, and from shimmering metallic green to fuzzy yellow and black, the vast majority of the bees in Pinnacles are solitary species. They have diverse life cycles and habitat preferences that allow them to coexist.
For example, most prefer to nest in different types of soils, but a lot nest in stems or wood. Many collect pollen from several flower species to feed their larvae, while some prefer the pollen of one or very few species of flowers. Some don’t build nests or collect pollen at all. Called kleptoparasites, these bees lay their eggs in the nests of other pollen-collecting bees. The best places to admire Pinnacles’ astounding bee diversity are in canyons and on certain flowers. At least 260 bee species have been seen along the 2.3-mile Old Pinnacles Trail alone, and more than 100 have been seen visiting California buckwheat. Other popular bee plants include deerweed, woolly yerba santa, California poppy, and clarkia. These native bees also provide pollinating services in the surrounding rangelands and other farmlands of our county.
Logan Bee Lab researchers returned to Pinnacles in 2011-2012, and may soon be able to shed even more light on the lives of the park’s incredible bees.
– By Jessica Weinberg