The Bees' Needs: When Forests Burn, Wild Pollinators are Among Nature's First Responders

What's the buzz when it comes to wildfires and bees? This interesting article gives another reason why saving the bees is critical for our ecosystems: post-fire restoration.

From the Source: 

"Over the past 30 years, residents of Montana and neighboring western states have watched and worried as wildfires in their region have grown in both number and intensity. Data collected by the U.S. Forest Service reveal that the average number of fires that burned more than 1,000 acres in Montana and Wyoming has doubled since the 1970s; in Idaho, the number has nearly quadrupled.

And with the increased threat of devastating wildfires comes the increased need to find new ways of fostering biodiversity in their aftermath. That’s why Reese and her supervisor, Laura Burkle, a community ecologist at Montana State, are poking around the wildflowers in a burned-over pine grove on this overcast midsummer day. Much of Burkle’s research focuses on wild pollinators, a group of insects made up largely of the tens of thousands of native bee species that are far different from the honey-makers people usually think of when they hear the word “bee.” For the past few years, she has been looking especially closely at these creatures as part of a larger study on biodiversity’s role in helping landscapes recover after wildfire.

Burkle and many other ecologists have hypothesized that wild pollinators are key to speeding up the process by which burned forests bounce back from barrenness to fecundity. For example, lupine—a wildflower that often pops up on sites recently affected by fire—relies on wild pollinators for reproduction. Once established, the plant’s roots host nitrogen-fixing bacteria that enrich the soil below, paving the way for the sprouting of shrubs and conifer seedlings. Other pollinator-dependent wildflowers and shrubs nourish all manner of woodland creatures, from mice to grizzly bears. (The latter are fond of huckleberries, the fruit of a shrub that relies on bees to carry its pollen.)" 

Above: "Laura Burkle studies the interactions between wild pollinators and wild lands." Credit: Vern Evans

Above: "Laura Burkle studies the interactions between wild pollinators and wild lands." Credit: Vern Evans