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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rock Stars in Rock Springs

Rock Springs, Wyoming is home to one heck of a pollinator enthusiast.  Bill and his wife Valjean have lived at their current house for 7 years, and have turned its yard from a barren, weedy wasteland to a lush, overwhelmingly productive heaven.  Seriously, I want to live in their garden.

Throughout their garden, you'll find dozens of brightly colored, oddly shaped, south or east facing boxes and bundles, all with tubes and tunnels, and decorated with flowers and glass beads.  Some call this garden art; but it has a greater purpose than that - these are bee houses.  Leafcutter bee houses, to be exact.  

In Laramie, we have a whole variety of bee species, many as common as others (bumble bees, masons, leafcutters, carpenters, sweat bees, etc.).  A variety of bees are found in Rock Springs too, but leafcutter bees are king.  You can ask me why, but I don't know.  Leafcutter bees are fabulous little pollinators that are solitary (don't live or work in groups), hairy (pollen collects on the bottom of their abdomen), usually striped black and gray, and have a scissor-like feature on their mouths that allow them to cut little half-circles from leaves to make their nests.  

A page from the "Laramie Area Pollinator Pocket Guide" -
available at Berry Center 231 or online here.

Who Cares?

When we asked Bill why he puts so much effort into keeping bee boxes in his garden, he said they had very low pollination in the garden before he started keeping native bees.  As in the cucumbers would flower but wouldn't produce any cukes - there was a critical piece missing.  And a good beekeeper knows that bees need primarily three things: food (flowers), water and... that's right, shelter.  Now that he's  providing all three components, their garden is flourishing!

These bee houses are all facing south or east to keep the nests warm without cooking them (west-facing houses would get hot afternoon sun).  They are at different heights, but the lowest is approx. 4 feet high, and the highest is approx. 7 feet high.  The blocks of wood are all at least six inches deep, with holes drilled into them perfectly horizontally (important for nesting), and they're secured firmly to whatever they're attached to (important for larvae).  

He uses a bunch of different mediums for nesting habitat: lumber, stumps, straws, styrofoam insulation, and lots of bamboo sticks.  The bamboo sticks seem to be very successful, as well as the insulation,  but the bees are actively nesting in all different mediums.  The holes that are plugged are active nests.

The Bigger Picture

Pollinators are the backbone to our food system and to our ecosystems.  Without pollinators, we wouldn't have things like raspberries, coffee and almonds, nor would we have places like flowering woodlands and prairies.  This example of proactively caring for pollinators shows that providing a little extra space for bees can turn a sad-looking yard into a beautiful garden, and maybe a sad-looking prairie into a beautiful meadow.

Check out this website for more resources:

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

Friday, August 16, 2013

Survivor: Green Roof Edition

The Berry Prairie made its professional ecological debut last week at the annual Ecological Society of America conference in Minneapolis, MN. And although the final survivorship numbers were not as high as we may have liked (~52%) the Prairie was well received and ecologist from all over the world were excited to hear about the roof and the ecosystem services it helped facilitate. 


As I mentioned, only about half of the total individuals planted on the Berry Prairie have survived (Table 1). It is likely that last summer’s untimely transplant had a large impact on the overall robustness of the plants resulting in a decline from ~94% survival in July 2012 to the ~52% in July of 2013.

This is not entirely bad news. After all, part of this experiment was to identify taxa that will do well… and doing well, even with all things considered, suggests that those groups of plants would be wise to consider for future green roofs in semi-arid environments. Further analysis of the vegetation data will help us determine which plants may be successful by evaluating functional groups, families and types of metabolism.


In layman’s terms: The bugs were a boon for the Berry Prairie. Our arthropod surveys have identified 13 orders within 3 classes of invertebrates and 8 families within 4 of these orders are noted for their pollinator services (Table 2).

Collembola refers to Springtails, those neat, tiny bugs that use their tail-like appendage to fling themselves up into the air if danger approaches.  Arachnida are, of course, arachnids or spiders.  Insecta, or insects, included flies, beetles, bees and wasps, butterflies and moths.

On a More Personal Note

This summer concludes my active evaluation of the Berry Center green roof. The Berry Prairie has been an incredible learning experience, an exciting challenge and singularly beautiful project to be involved with.

The Berry Prairie will continued to be monitored and studied, so stay tuned for all the exciting science to come from the Berry Center and the Biodiversity Institute.

Written by Kyle Bolenbaugh, UW Botany

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prairie Update

Whoa, it's been a long time since we put anything new up here!  We've been hopping around the state doing outdoor education programs and pollinator awareness events, and haven't spent much time in the office.  Speaking of pollinators, I have a cool story for you about bees in Rock Springs - that'll come later.

Anyway, how about a green roof update?  I've been defending the term "green" roof lately, since the Berry Prairie isn't looking too green these days.  As you know, that's a term for a living roof, and our unusual plant selection doesn't always jive with the nomenclature.  I guess it's a tan roof with patches of green?  

Blooming Updates:

1. The beautiful Liatris (Liatris lewisii), also known as the Gayfeather, is in bloom.  This individual is short in stature, but the color packs a punch.  In larger bunches, these are pollinator meccas, with the flower heads usually vibrating with the number of bees on it.  Also, as you may recall, it was one of the only plants that still bloomed during the whole green roof removal debacle last year.

2.  The Laramie Columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis) has been blooming throughout the summer, one individual after another.  This is the largest of the blooms we've seen this year, isn't it fabulous?  

Trail Grasses Update

The grasses we are testing out with a few other green roofs are getting established.  You'll see that the Sun Sedge (which is not a grass) is loving life.  They've each put on new growth this year, and we're hopeful that this strand of blue grama will be a better fit for the green roof than the strand we have now.  So far the hairy grama isn't looking too spectacular, but it's still early.

New growth on the blue grama

Blue grama

Hairy grama
Sand dropseed
Sun sedge

Stay tuned for Kyle's post on the results of his survivability research, and on pollinators in Rock Springs, WY!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute