Amanda Dillon Edna Bailey Sussman Report

Amanda Dillon
Edna Bailey Sussman Report
The work I conducted this summer with the funding I received from the Edna
Bailey Sussman Foundation was focused on solitary bees and wasps. One of the most
common questions I received from passersby while conducting my fieldwork was, “What
exactly does solitary mean?” This just refers to the fact that instead of living in colonies,
as the non-native honeybee does, each individual female in these species builds and
stocks her own nest. Although some solitary species do appear colonial, as females will
aggregate in suitable habitats, most of the native bees and many wasps of Central New
York are solitary. Research on our native pollinators is of particular importance in light
of the recent honeybee decline. If the issues behind colony collapse disorder in the
European honeybee, Apis mellifera, are not soon discovered and solved, we may need to
rely on our native species for the economic service of pollination.
My research is focused on discovering the most ideal habitat for native bees and
wasps, as well as conducting a census to better understand what species can be found in
central New York. To carry out my research I chose a field site that provided a number of
different types of environments including, but not limited to, those that I focused on for
my study: around wetlands, underneath powerline right-of-ways, and in fields and
meadows. My research site, Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in Lysander New
York, was ideal because these habitats are maintained through yearly mowing. The
individuals I worked with at Three Rivers, including Bonnie Parton and Gary Pratt, were
very helpful. They were not only supportive but also interested in my work, and were
valuable allies when altercations arose with fellow permit holders.
To accomplish my research, I used two basic methods. The first, trap-nesting,
allowed me to discover which species were nesting in each site. In the previous year I
built my trap-nests out of a common roadside grass, Phragmites. This grass is hollow so I
cut the large blades into small pieces and bundled them together. These nests did not
survive the elements. With my Sussman Foundation funding, I was able to build trapnests of my own design, as pictured below. These were constructed out of standard 2x4
lumber and plywood, with various size nesting holes and mounted on reinforcing rod
To my delight, the bees and wasps not only used the trap-nests, but by midsummer, all but one trap had been nearly filled with nests. I then constructed more trapnests and replaced each filled box with an empty one. This enabled me to place the filled
boxes inside of large plastic tubs with screen lids so that I could catch, preserve and
identify one of every species that emerged. The remainder of the emerging individuals
were returned to my study site and set free. I had a good assortment including potter
wasps, carpenter bees, and many species of leaf cutter bees. The leaf cutter bees were
especially interesting because they lined the holes in the boxes and closed each egg in a
cell with circlets of leaves that they cut from nearby vegetation. As pictured below, these
nests could be easily removed from the box for observation without harming the larval
leaf cutters within.
The other study methods I used were pan-trapping and sweep-netting. These
methods allowed me to determine what species were foraging in my sites. These
techniques were only used every other week over the summer to avoid over-sampling and
hurting the populations. The pan-traps were plastic bowls of three different colors, red,
blue and yellow, that were set out in a line 7.5 meters apart at each sampling location.
Each bowl was filled with soapy water, and traps were left in place from 9:00 am to 4:30
pm on trapping days. Sweep-netting was conducted by catching all solitary bees and
wasps I saw with a simple insect net for one half hour in the morning and one half hour in
the afternoon. I achieved great success with both of these methods as I caught over 1700
I have spent the past semester identifying my specimens under a dissecting
microscope. I currently have all specimens identified to the family level, and I am now
working on classifying them down to genus. Although I have not yet started detailed data
analysis, I am already seeing trends in my data such as emergence patterns and habitat
preference in some genera. Further statistical analyses will enable me to discover which
habitat(s) are best suited to our native pollinators.
I will continue to classify my specimens for the remainder of this semester, and I
plan to begin statistical analysis next semester. I am also anxiously waiting for my next
batch of trap-nests, collected from the field in September, to hatch. In the interest of
returning the greatest number of individuals to the wild, I am allowing them to naturally
over-winter while waiting for them to emerge in early spring.
I am looking forward to discovering what new species hatch out next spring and
what conclusions I can draw from my data. I cannot thank the Edna Bailey Sussman
Foundation enough for their support, without which my research could not have been