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From Trash to Treasure: How Bee Bycatch Can Advance Ecological Research, Collaborations

bee bycatch

Some pest monitoring traps can capture a large number and wide range of non-target insects, including various bee species, as illustrated in this image of bycatch captured in a pest trap. In a new report, a group of researchers examine ways to reduce bee bycatch in pest traps while also exploring how bycatch can aid in assessing bee biodiversity, population levels, range shifts, and more. (Photo by Janet Lensing, Ph.D.)

By Lori Spears, Ph.D.

Lori Spears, Ph.D.

Lori Spears, Ph.D.

Bees are important ecosystem service providers, but unfortunately some species and populations are in decline due to factors such as habitat loss, pests, pathogens, climate change, and improper pesticide use. Consequently, there has been a push to monitor bee populations to identify and protect species and communities that are most at risk. Methods used to monitor bees include pan traps, vane traps, and active sampling with nets, where the former two use visual stimuli to mimic natural cues used by bees to locate floral resources. Unfortunately, bees are also frequently captured in traps intended for pest insects due to an overlap in attraction to diverse stimuli.

In, “A Review of Bee Captures in Pest Monitoring Traps and Future Directions for Research and Collaboration,” published last week in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management, my colleagues Morgan Christman, Jonathan Koch, Ph.D., Chris Looney, Ph.D., Ricardo Ramirez, Ph.D., and I highlight the biological and ecological reasons for bee captures in pest traps as well as concerns surrounding bee bycatch, such as the potential capture of threatened and endangered bee species and reduced trap efficacy. We also discuss how some trapping protocols have evolved to support increased target pest captures and reduced bee bycatch and how these practices may change or improve in the future to better meet these goals.

bucket trap

Some pest monitoring traps, such as the Unitrap or bucket trap, can capture a large number and wide range of non-target insects, including various bee species. In a new report, a group of researchers examine ways to reduce bee bycatch in pest traps while also exploring how bycatch can aid in assessing bee biodiversity, population levels, range shifts, and more. (Photo by Lori Spears, Ph.D.)

Identifying strategies to reduce the bycatch of beneficial insects in pest traps is an exciting and meaningful area of study and research. Additionally, we emphasize ways insect bycatch has assisted with related pest initiatives (e.g., the detection of new exotic pest species), how bycatch can support broader research efforts, and opportunities for future collaborative research and resource sharing. “In this review, we demonstrate a unique opportunity for stakeholders engaged in monitoring and surveillance of beneficial insects, namely bees, to collaborate with IPM specialists and researchers to characterize bee richness in diverse agricultural landscapes,” says Koch, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

One potential fruitful research area is to better understand the impact of pest traps on beneficial insect species and the ecosystem services they provide. “We conduct insect pest surveys to give us a leg up on new introductions and protect agroecosystems from potentially overwhelming pests. It would be deeply ironic if our efforts to protect agriculture from insect pests damaged another part of that system, such as pollinator services,” says Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Christman, a Ph.D. candidate in the Ramirez and Spears labs in the Department of Biology at Utah State University, is investigating whether the bucket trap, a popular pheromone-based trap for Lepidoptera, impacts bumble bee colony growth and development. Although her research focuses on bumble bees, there is a need to also document potential impacts of pest traps on other species, such as the honey bee. Further, the bycatch literature mostly emphasizes incidental captures of bumble bees and honey bees in specific pest traps; however, there is a general lack of data on solitary bee species. It is unknown whether this absence of data is due to other trap styles not capturing large numbers of bees or infrequently capturing solitary bees. These are important factors worth considering as we move forward with our work.

Lori Spears, Ph.D., is a professional practice associate professor in the Department of Biology at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Email: lori.spears@usu.edu.

1 Comment »

  1. Seeing this article reminded of the time I was working with a private company is western North Carolina, and I was looking at the insects killed by a UV ‘zapper’ trap located no more than 30 feet from the doors of the warehouse’s loading dock, and among the catch I found a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) along with a male tiger swallowtail. I believe the proximity to the doors, and hence visibility from outside at certain angles, resulted in this bycatch.

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