Probing Pollinators in the Arkansas Delta

It is National Pollinator Week, which is a good time to share University of Arkansas pollinator field research going on this summer in the Arkansas Delta.

Researchers including U of A graduate student Phillip Stephenson are covering an eight-county area known as the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley in east Arkansas to document and describe insect pollinator communities in wetlands and how they are contributing to the ecology of adjacent croplands.

Many people associate bees and butterflies with pollination, but wasps, ants, moths, flies and some beetles all play a role in pollinating plants. Insect pollinators are essential to native plants and agricultural crops, while also playing a crucial role in our nation’s economy and environmental health.

A bee lands on a swamp milkweed. | Phillip Stephenson, University of Arkansas

A bee lands on a swamp milkweed plant. | Phillip Stephenson, University of Arkansas

Stephenson, a master’s student in biology, is collecting pollinators in the Delta using pan and vane traps and sweep nets. Pan traps are constructed with brightly colored cups – fluorescent yellow, fluorescent blue and white – to simulate highly attractive flowers to insects.

A pan trap set up to attract pollinators in the Cache River National refuge in Woodruff County, Arkansas. | Pjillip Stephenson, University of Arkansas

A pan trap set up to attract pollinators in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Woodruff County, Arkansas. | Phillip Stephenson, University of Arkansas

“The cups are filled with a soapy solution that breaks the surface tension as the insects enter the cup,” Stephenson. “These traps are run from dawn to dusk and the specimens are collected at dusk when insect movement is at its lowest. The insects will be identified at a later date. The vane traps are used to collect larger bees such as bumblebees. The sweep net method is used to collect insects that aren’t necessarily attracted or captured by the other two methods.”

The U.S. Geological Survey Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, housed in the U of A’s Department of Biological Sciences, is collaborating on the project with several entities, including the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. There are three main objectives of the project, which began in August 2014 and will continue through December 2016:

  • Document pollinators in native and managed emergent wetlands throughout the flowering season.
  • Compare pollinator communities in native emergent wetlands, managed emergent wetlands and adjacent croplands.
  • Document whether pollinators visiting flowers in wetlands also visit flowers in adjacent croplands.

The study should help wetland managers make more informed habitat decisions and justify future funding for conservation easements targeting valuable insect pollinator habitat resources.

David Krementz, a research professor at the U of A and leader of the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit, described the project in the Wildlife Management Institute’s Outdoor News Bulletin.

A bee lands on a yellow primrose flower. | Phillip Stephenson, University of Arkansas



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