Entomologist Lynn Wescott.

Expert to help Revelstoke save native bee species

The Three-spot Mariposa Lily is an understated three-petalled white and yellow flower indigenous to some areas of the Columbia Basin. Like all living things, it’s part of the intricate and complex web of life that sustains us all.

The Three-spot Mariposa Lily is an understated three-petalled white and yellow flower indigenous to some areas of the Columbia Basin. Like all living things, it’s part of the intricate and complex web of life that sustains us all.

Recent research by biologist Lincoln Best of York University has uncovered that this flower has a particularly intricate relationship with its friends in the bee world. Best’s research, which included fieldwork in Mount Revelstoke National Park, has uncovered evidence that the flower may be highly dependent on just one species of wild bee for pollination. There are over 400 species of wild bees in B.C., but in repeated fieldwork around the flowers, Best caught only the one species of bee interacting with the flower.

With wild bees in decline in B.C. and elsewhere in North America, the concern is this intricate relationship could break down; the tragic end of the cycle could mean the last lilies are left to bloom alone in the forest, with no helpers to spread their pollen an continue their cycle of life.

Bee there! Bee specialist leads backyard bee habitat workshop this Saturday

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PHOTO: The Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis) is in decline and is known to inhabit Mount Revelstoke National Park. Making backyard bee habitat can be a step to regenerating the species. Alistair B. Fraser photo

“I am fascinated by bees; I think they are very lovely animals, they are beautiful,” says Castlegar-based entomologist and bee specialist Lynn Wescott.

She told me that story in a fascinating telephone interview last week. You’ll bee able to hear her stories first-hand when she leads a workshop at the Revelstoke United Church on April 16 showing residents how to create backyard wild bee habitat.

The issue at hand, says Wescott, is evidence of the decline of wild bees across North America, and the worrying lack of baseline scientific knowledge about wild bees that leaves experts concerned that we don’t even know the half of it.

The mariposa lily story highlights an important point. “There are some very close relationships between either a particular family of bees, or one species of bee may only pollinate one flowering plant,” Wescott says. If the plant habitat goes, the bees will follow, and vice versa. Because the web is so unknown, and so complex, entomologists like Wescott reason that creating and preserving wild bee habitat is a prudent step at this point. This will help out the bees, and the flora and fauna that surrounds us.

Wescott points to the Western Bumblebee as an example. The “very charismatic insect” is one variety of the big, bushy bees we see bumbling around our garden. There are about 40 bumblebee species. The Western Bumblebee has declined dramatically in North America. Mount Revelstoke National Park is one of its known remaining habits.

The hope is that by creating backyard habitats, we can aid in their revival, and the revival of other wild, native plant species around our community — not to mention backyard gardens. Bees are the most effective pollinators of plants.

Wescott will also be leading a general presentation on wild bees at the event.

The ‘Bees & Seeds’ event will also be a seed exchange — bring your seeds along. There will also be information on the Downtown Community Garden, which will again be located next to the downtown church.

The North Columbia Environmental Society-hosted event takes place at the Revelstoke United Church on Saturday, April 16 from 10 a.m. to noon. See the NCES website for details on cost and what to bring.

Wescott adds that creating the habits is pretty simple, but they do require a little upkeep and know-how. And for those concerned about getting stung, Wescott says not to be too worried. “The majority of native species of bees are very non-aggressive,” she says. “Some of the species we have don’t even have stingers,”