A Reason to "Bee"

Henry Cen

During my fellowship at the Plant Conservation Division, I did an arthropod collection experiment where I compared two insect pollinator trapping methods. The Plant Conservation Division wanted to look at changes in arthropod community structures in response to habitat restoration at Lake Hodges and my experiment played a large role in designing the arthropod study.

Of course, I was very excited about contributing to the restoration project. My fellowship mentor, Ryan Fitch, and I were both very interested to see what kind of data we’d collect from my experiment. But I was not prepared for what we’d discover in one of the traps.

I found a very rare species of bumble bee (Bombus crotchii) which was listed on the IUCN Red List as “endangered” in 2015. The bee specimen was confirmed by a local bee expert at UCSD, James Hung. We conducted a few more pollinator collections at Lake Hodges and found four more Bombus crotchii. This kind of abundance of these endangered bumble bee species implies that there is a colony somewhere close to our restoration site at Lake Hodges.

The discovery of this endangered bee gives us more reason to restore and protect the natural habitat of Lake Hodges. The dominant vegetation of Lake Hodges is Coastal Sage Scrub (CSS), which harbors a very diverse community of plant and animal species.

However, CSS habitat faces two major threats: 1) habitat fragmentation as a result of land development, and 2) vegetation type conversion as a result of invasive plant spread.

As CSS disappears, the high species richness that CSS harbors also declines from habitat loss. We previously did not even know this rare bumble bee species existed at Lake Hodges. It is terrifying to think about how many species out there might disappear without us ever knowing about their existence. Many of the small critters that tend to be overlooked may actually be fundamental to the health of an ecosystem.

For example, Bombus crotchii is an important native pollinator and pollination is critical for the reproduction of over 85% of the plant species on earth. Plants are the foundations for most terrestrial ecosystems. I hope we have the opportunity to continue working with more habitat restoration projects and continue to put efforts into preserving natural reserves. Ending extinction starts with us! Every bit of effort we put in helps our planet.