Adriana M. Chavez
LAS CRUCES – There are over 4,000 species of bees in the United States and approximately 1,000 species of bees in New Mexico due to the state’s diverse landscapes. But native bees aren’t much researched in New Mexico compared to the more well-known honey bee.
Adrienne Rosenberg of the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at New Mexico State University in Alcalde is working on research to change that.
Currently, Rosenberg is studying the state’s native bee populations by comparing a field of native wildflowers to a field of alfalfa, a more traditional cover and cash crop in New Mexico. By studying the native bee populations in the two regions, Rosenberg measures bee diversity.
Due to the presence of well-vegetated watersheds fed by acequias, desert landscapes and small farms, northern New Mexico is full of unique bee habitats to seek out, Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg’s project not only assesses the diversity of bee species in New Mexico, it could also potentially aid in the conservation of aequia rights. Rosenberg also hopes to create a demonstration site and establish easy planting methods that could invite native pollinators and help farmers maintain a constant source of pollinators.
âWe have a very diverse range of bee species in New Mexico, and one of those reasons is that sandy soil is more suitable for solitary nesting bees,â Rosenberg said. “About 70 percent of bee species are ground-nesting bees.”
Pollinators are part of the sexual reproduction of many flowering plants. More than 75 percent of the 115 major crop species on the planet depend on or benefit from crops pollinated by animals. Many flowers native to the deserts of the southwest depend on particular pollinators, as do many food crops.
Rosenberg said bees are “a sort of peril flag bearer with bees” but are only one species of over 4,000 bees in the United States.
âOur native bees are equally affected by many of the same and more anonymous issues to the public. Some research has even shown that they are perhaps more efficient pollinators of agricultural crops and native plants than bees, âRosenberg said. âTheir loss could be catastrophic for our ecosystems and our food landscapes. “
Most non-domesticated bees – generally considered beneficial insects – are under constant threat from climate change and increased use of pesticides. Their habitats are also threatened due to habitat fragmentation due to land use planning. Pollination is threatened by habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced diseases, according to the Xerces Society.
“There is the expansion of urban areas, which is a big concern, and the aspect of climate change, which causes phenology asynchronous with flowering times and pollination,” said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg hopes his current research project will contribute to a better understanding of bees living in New Mexico and their preferred habitat in northern New Mexico. Rosenberg’s research involves a patch of wildflowers planted in 2019 and a separate alfalfa patch created from an existing alfalfa field. Both plots receive water from an acequia.
Data collection began in the spring of 2019 and continued last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rosenberg said she may have preliminary findings next year or in 2023.
âA lot of times you can’t control a lot of what’s going on. You change with the weather and the seasons, âsaid Rosenberg. “Fortunately, when COVID hit, I had the support of my colleagues who helped me a lot with maintaining the plots.”
Rosenberg hopes his project will raise awareness and provide solutions to farmers and landowners in New Mexico by creating habitats for native bees. Its broader vision, she said, is to combine the restoration of native pollinator habitat with the conservation of aequia rights.
For a guide to bees native to New Mexico, visit https://bit.ly/38vNKRD.
A version of this story first published in the Fall 2021 issue of ACES magazine. To read the issue, visit https://bit.ly/3qeSbuj.
âEye on Researchâ is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Adriana M. ChÃ¡vez of Marketing and Communications. She can be reached at 575-646-1957 or [email protected].