Can Native Plants Mitigate Climate-related Forage Dearth for Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae)?

Zhang, Ge
St. Clair, Ashley L.
Dolezal, Adam G.
Toth, Amy L.
O'Neal, Matthew E.
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© The Author(s) 2021
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Pollinator Working Group
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EntomologyEcology, Evolution and Organismal BiologyPollinator Working Group
Extreme weather events, like high temperatures and droughts, are predicted to become common with climate change, and may negatively impact plant growth. How honey bees (Apis mellifera L. [Hymenoptera: Apidae]) will respond to this challenge is unclear, especially when collecting pollen, their primary source of protein, lipids, and micro-nutrients. We explored this response with a data set from multiple research projects that measured pollen collected by honey bees during 2015–2017 in which above-average temperatures and a drought occurred in 2017. We summarized the abundance and diversity of pollen collected from July to September in replicated apiaries kept at commercial soybean and corn farms in Iowa, in the Midwestern USA. The most commonly collected pollen was from clover (Trifolium spp. [Fabales: Fabaceae]), which dramatically declined in absolute and relative abundance in July 2017 during a period of high temperatures and drought. Due to an apparent lack of clover, honey bees switched to the more drought-tolerant native species (e.g., Chamaecrista fasciculata [Michx.] Greene [Fabales: Fabaceae], Dalea purpurea Vent. [Fabales: Fabaceae], Solidago spp. [Asterales: Asteraceae]), and several species of Asteraceae. This was especially noticeable in August 2017 when C. fasciculata dominated (87%) and clover disappeared from bee-collected pollen. We discuss the potential implications of climate-induced forage dearth on honey bee nutritional health. We also compare these results to a growing body of literature on the use of native, perennial flowering plants found in Midwestern prairies for the conservation of beneficial insects. We discuss the potential for drought resistant-native plants to potentially promote resilience to climate change for the non-native, managed honey bee colonies in the United States.
This article is published as Zhang, Ge, Ashley L. St Clair, Adam G. Dolezal, Amy L. Toth, and Matthew E. O’Neal. "Can Native Plants Mitigate Climate-related Forage Dearth for Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae)?." Journal of Economic Entomology (2021). doi:10.1093/jee/toab202. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
rainfall, temperature, native plant, Apis mellifera, climate change