Making the Bed Just Right for Alkali Bees

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

Last summer, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Jim Cane spent a week visiting alfalfa fields near the town of Touchet, in Walla Walla County, Washington. He wasn’t scouting for insect threats or damage to the legume crop. Instead, he was collecting data on the alkali bee, a solitary, ground-nesting species that alfalfa seed growers count on for peak yields. Alfalfa seed is sold to grow premium hay for dairy cows and other livestock.

Known scientifically as Nomia melanderi, the alkali bee is a champion pollinator when it comes to alfalfa flowers—even outperforming the respected honey bee. In fact, some Touchet farmers maintain parcels of open soil called “bee beds” to encourage female alkali bees to nest and raise their young, ensuring generations of pollinators and profitable seed yields for the future. Some of these sites have been maintained for more than 50 years, underscoring the insect’s importance to local alfalfa growers.

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