Spatial and taxonomic patterns of honey bee foraging: A choice test between urban and agricultural landscapes (Journal of Urban Ecology)

The health of honey bee colonies cannot be understood apart from the landscapes in which they live. Urban and agricultural developments are two of the most dramatic and widespread forms of human land use, but their respective effects on honey bees remain poorly understood. Here, we evaluate the relative attractiveness of urban and agricultural land use to honey bees by conducting a foraging choice test. Our study was conducted in the summer and fall, capturing a key portion of the honey bee foraging season that includes both the shift from summer- to fall-blooming flora and the critical period of pre-winter food accumulation. Colonies located at an apiary on the border of urban and agricultural landscapes were allowed to forage freely, and we observed their spatial and taxonomic foraging patterns using a combination of dance language analysis and pollen identification. We found a consistent spatial bias in favor of the agricultural landscape over the urban, a pattern that was corroborated by the prevalence in pollen samples of adventitious taxa common in the agricultural landscape. The strongest bias toward the agricultural environment occurred late in the foraging season, when goldenrod became the principal floral resource. We conclude that, in our study region, the primary honey bee foraging resources are more abundant in agricultural than in urban landscapes, a pattern that is especially marked at the end of the foraging season as colonies prepare to overwinter. Urban beekeepers in this region should, therefore, consider supplemental feeding when summer-blooming flora begin to decline. (Full paper here.)