In an era when Colony Collapse Disorder is threatening to annihilate large populations of the nation’s honey bees, Kevin Matteson, Ph.D. (GSAS ’07), is working to promote the importance of bee biodiversity right here in New York City.
Matteson, a post-doctoral teaching fellow in the Department of Biology, is a coordinator of the 2008 Bee Watchers of New York City program administered by the American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) Center for Biodiversity and Conservation and the New York City Department of Parks’ Greenbelt Native Plant Center. The program has so far enlisted 200 volunteers in all five boroughs to do bi-weekly counts of the number and types of bees landing on specified plants and flowers. The object, says Matteson, is to raise awareness about the species while charting what kinds of bees are pollinating plants in the City’s parks and 700 community gardens.
“There are a lot of wild plants in our city that need bees,” said Matteson, who frequently bee-watches on the Fordham campus as well as in his own back yard on City Island. “The decline of the honey bee has gotten people really interested in what is going on with bees, generally. But it [also]highlights the problem of relying solely on one species. This is why biodiversity is important. Having a suite of different species that can provide pollination in the city gives us insurance, in case something happens to our honey bees.”
Although critical to the nation’s farms and rural areas, the honey bee, in fact, is not the city’s prime pollinator, said Matteson, and would probably not be present at all if it were not for the kindness of strangers.
“Technically, keeping honey bees in the city is illegal, but people do [beekeeping]anyway,” Matteson said.
The city’s main pollinators turn out to be some 200 species of wild bees, one of the most common being the Northeast Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, which is ten times more abundant than the honey bee in city gardens. In addition to native bees, Matteson said there are at least ten “foreign” bees, mostly from Eurasia, that have taken up residence in the city as well.
The museum began the Bee Watch in 2007 with just 50 volunteers as part of its Great Pollinator Project, which works with similar national projects. Training in bee identification and native plants was provided by Matteson and others in June and July, through a grant from the New York City Environmental Fund.
Bee Watch 2008 runs through the end of September. Besides helping raise public awareness, the project hopes to identify high pollinator service areas in the city and to make park management practices more bee-friendly. Additional information can be found on the project’s website .
Matteson is co-author of “Bee Richness and Abundance in New York City Urban Gardens,” published recently in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. Co-authors are John Ascher, Ph.D., AMNH research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Gail Langellotto, Ph.D. assistant professor of horticulture at Oregon State University.