When it comes to naming wildlife in the Lake Tahoe Basin bees might not be in the top 10. This is unfortunate because of how important they are to the ecosystem.

Rachel Vannette, a chancellor’s fellow with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, gave a talk in the spring in Tahoe put on the Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Carpenter bees are native to the Lake Tahoe Basin. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

There are 4,000 bee species native to North America, with almost 2,000 of them living in California and nearly 1,000 calling Nevada home. Ones native to the basin include bumble bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, and carpenter bees.

Honeybees, though, are not native to the United States. They have been imported mostly for agricultural purposes.

“They are our domesticated livestock of the insect world,” Vannette said.

While honey bees are often in the news because of their dwindling populations, Vannette is not an advocate of beekeepers in the flatlands bringing their boxes of bees to the Sierra forests.

She quoted a recent study done by UC Davis about the nectar availability of the quamash plant when honeybees were brought to Tahoe.

“(The researcher) found that with increasing honeybee abundance the nectar availability in that plant decreased to almost nothing and that reduced visitation by the native bees. And it turns out honeybees are really bad pollinators for the quamash,” Vannette said.

The end result was the quamash visited by honeybees did not repopulate.

Vannette said the best way to help bees in the basin is to conserve natural areas with high wildflower diversity. Plant native willow, lupine, penstemon, sage and buckwheat because bees are attracted to them.

“And if you plant things throughout the season, you are more likely to support healthy populations of bees,” Vannette said.

She suggests leaving some ground bare around homes because that is where bees make nests.

While no one wants another Angora or Caldor fire to rip through the basin, bees actually benefit from fire because a cleared canopy is a good thing for them.

“The light can get through to the ground and that flush of nutrients hits the ground and all of these wildflowers will spring back,” Vannette said. “In a number of different regions it has been shown that bee populations increase (and) the diversity increases for a number of years following wildfire. A healthy forest means a healthy bee population.”

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

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