There are more than 4,000 bee species in the United States and about 1,000 bee species in New Mexico due to the state’s diverse landscapes. But native bees aren’t the subject of much research in New Mexico compared to the more well-known honeybee.
Adrienne Rosenberg of New Mexico State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde is working on research to change that.
Currently, Rosenberg is studying the state’s native bee populations by comparing a native wildflower field to an alfalfa field, a more traditional ground-cover and cash crop in New Mexico. By studying the native bee populations in both areas, Rosenberg is measuring the diversity of the bees.
Because of the presence of well-vegetated watersheds fed by acequias, desert landscapes and small farms, northern New Mexico has plenty of unique bee habitats to research, Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg’s project is not only assessing the diversity of bee species in New Mexico, it could also potentially help with the conservation of acequia rights. Rosenberg also hopes to create a demonstration site and establish easy planting methods that may invite native pollinators and help farmers maintain a constant source of pollinators.
“We have a very diverse array of bee species in New Mexico, and one of those reasons is sandy soil is more suitable for solitary nesting bees,” Rosenberg said. “About 70 percent of the bee species are ground-nesting bees.”
Pollinators are part of the sexual reproduction of many flowering plants. More than 75 percent of the Earth’s 115 principal crop species are dependent on or benefit from animal-pollinated crops. Many native flowers in the deserts of the Southwest depend on particular pollinators, as do many food crops.
Rosenberg said honeybees are “kind of the poster child of the perils with bees” but are only one species out of the 4,000 bees in the U.S.
“Our native bees are just as impacted by many of the same problems and more anonymous to the public. Some research has even shown they are perhaps more effective pollinators of agricultural crops and native plants than honeybees,” Rosenberg said. “Their loss could be catastrophic for our ecosystems and foodscapes.”
Most undomesticated bees – generally considered beneficial insects – are under constant threat due to climate change and increased use of pesticides. Their habitats also are in jeopardy because of habitat fragmentation due to land development. According to the Xerces Society, pollination is at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use and introduced diseases.
“There’s the expansion of urban areas, which is a big concern, and the aspect of climate change, which causes asynchronous phenology with bloom times and pollination,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg hopes her current research project will contribute to a better understanding of bees living in New Mexico and their preferred habitat in northern New Mexico. Rosenberg’s research involves a wildflower plot planted in 2019 and a separate alfalfa plot created from an existing alfalfa field. Both plots receive water from an acequia.
Data collection began in spring 2019 and continued last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rosenberg said she may have preliminary findings next year or in 2023.
“Often, you can’t control a lot of what happens. You’re at the whim of weather and the seasons,” Rosenberg said. “Fortunately, when COVID hit, I had the support of my colleagues who helped a lot when it came to maintaining the plots.”
Rosenberg hopes her project raises awareness and solutions for New Mexico farmers and landowners in creating habitats for native bees. Her larger vision, she said, is to associate native pollinator habitat restoration with acequia-rights conservation.
For a guide to native bees in New Mexico, visit https://bit.ly/38vNKRD.
A version of this story first published in the fall 2021 issue of ACES Magazine. To read the issue, visit https://bit.ly/3qeSbuj.
CUTLINE: Adrienne Rosenberg of the New Mexico State University Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde started her native bee research in 2019. She believes her project will contribute to a better understanding of bees living in New Mexico and their preferred habitat in northern New Mexico. (NMSU Photo by Josh Bachman)
A woman stands in a field
CUTLINE: Research is underway at the New Mexico State University Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde to study the state’s native bee populations. (NMSU Photo by Josh Bachman)
A bee in a plastic tube.
CUTLINE: A bee sits on a flower at the New Mexico State University Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde. (NMSU Photo by Josh Bachman)
A bee on a flower.