Several EEB graduate students have been sharing their knowledge of urban pollination with the Detroit and Ann Arbor communities. 

Over the past couple of months, their educational outreach has involved a bee catching event with grade school and middle school children in northwest Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood as well as presenting talks to gardeners in Ann Arbor and in downtown Detroit.

Gordon Fitch, Paul Glaum, Chatura Vaidya and Maria-Carolina Simao, a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, comprise the outreach team.

“We meet with an after-school program for children in the neighborhood who work with a local gardening and farming program,” said Glaum. They sampled their gardens for bees and briefly captured them in see-through plastic bags to see and describe those species. They brought pinned specimens to show and gave a short talk about bee diversity.

“It was getting to be colder fall weather and only male bees were active. Once the students learned males don't have stingers, they were instantly way more hands-on, running into the fields to try their hand at bee catching.”

During one weekend in December, the U-M students gave two talks for gardeners, community members and organization leaders they've worked with over the last two summers. The talks were at the Dana Building, Ann Arbor, and at the U-M Detroit Center.

“We detailed some of the background of our research, the reason for its importance, and why we think urban agriculture is so important to wild bee communities,” Glaum described. They briefly outlined some of their preliminary research results and offered advice for developing pollinator-friendly gardens.

“I'm happy to be able to share our findings with the farmers and gardeners that made our study possible,” Glaum said. “These are active community members who care about the future of their communities and it's nice to contribute even in a small way.”

“I've been really gratified to see how easy it is to use pollinators as an ‘in’ to engage with the public on issues of ecological sustainability in urban areas,” said Fitch. “It's been great to see how observant and curious people are about what is happening in their garden and yard, and to be able to provide some insight into what the patterns they observe might mean. The informal interaction with participants after the formal presentation is certainly the big highlight for me.”

The graduate students work at gardens and farms across southeast Michigan. Some of the affiliated organizations whose members attended their talks included Ann Arbor’s Project Grow, reportedly the oldest continually running community garden group in the country, The Greening of Detroit, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Midtown Detroit Inc. Community Gardens, Voices for Earth Justice (where EEB alumnus, Naim Edwards, M.S. 2014, works), and others.

The students have been happy to receive several follow-up emails from gardeners who attended recent talks, thereby continuing the discussion about bee community health. Other local organizations heard about their work and have invited them to give talks at their meetings, such as a presentation they’ll give at the Michigan Botanical Club this month. They plan to give further talks as they complete more of their analysis and continue to be involved with further outreach activities such as the annual BioBlitz.

One gardener, who was visiting colleges in Ohio with his high school-aged kids the day of their Detroit talk made sure to drive back in order to attend. “So, we're pulling interstate crowds now,” Glaum joked.

A few takeaway messages from the experts:

1. Regarding the pesticide, neonicotinoids: While their work does not directly relate to neonics, the growing literature suggests that these chemicals have long-term negative effects on both wild and honey bees. They advocate that farmers and gardeners consider alternative pest control methods, such as organic pesticides and biological control.

2. Having flowers throughout the growing season is great for bee diversity. There are numerous species of bees that are only active early or late in the growing season. These bees often miss out on garden flower blooms in the middle of the growing season. Early flowering plants, like chives, can be important food sources for early season bees.

3. Native flowers are a great way to attract native pollinators. Many ornamental flowers, while pretty, do not offer much in accessible pollen or nectar for wild bees.

4. Nesting space is important. Many bees nest in the ground or in older logs. Having bare, undisturbed soil offers nesting opportunities for ground-nesting bees. Older logs, twigs, or even the wood walls of raised beds are utilized by bees that nest in wood. Even without a garden, it is possible to create nesting opportunities for wild bees. Bee hotels are easy to make and are a great way to help bees beyond planting flowers.

The “Urban Bee Team” from left to right: Paul Glaum, Chatura Vaidya, Maria-Carolina Simao, Gordon Fitch.