Can Beef Be Bee-Friendly?  Using Native Warm-Season Grasses and Wildflowers in Pastures to Conserve Bees

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Virginia Tech

Over the past several decades, native and managed bee populations have decreased in the United States and worldwide. Although bee decline is attributable to several factors, habitat loss is the primary driver. Simultaneously, cattle producers in the eastern U.S. rely primarily on cool-season forages that peak in biomass production in late spring, leading to a lack of forage in the summer months and increasing the costs of cattle production. Seeding pastures with a mix of native warm-season grasses and native wildflowers could increase forage availability while also increasing available resources for bees. In this study, a mix of three native warm-season grasses (NWSGs) and 15 wildflower species was planted at the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SVAREC). The objectives of this project were to document the establishment and species composition of NWSG + wildflower pasture mixtures, compare the attractiveness of wildflowers and weedy species to bees, and compare the bee community between NWSG + wildflower pastures and more typical cool-season grass pastures. The wildflowers in the NWSG + wildflower pastures dominated over grasses. All wildflower species that established were attractive to bees, as were some weedy species. The NWSG + wildflower treatments had the highest abundance of bees collected, with an average of 14.8 bees collected per pasture per sampling date in 2018, and an average of 12.4 bees collected per pasture per sampling date in 2019. These results indicate that with modification of establishment methods so that more grasses are present, this pasture system could be beneficial from both a cattle production and bee conservation standpoint.

bees, wildflowers, native warm-season grasses, pastures, conservation, cattle