02 / 07 / 2024

Exploring Bee Fauna in Latvian Grasslands

Author: Maja Raemakers

As a biology master's student from the Netherlands with a passion for ecology and biodiversity, I am excited to be interning at the Baltic Studies Centre as part of the EU Horizon Europe project RestPoll (“Restoring pollinator habitats across European agricultural landscapes based on multi-actor participatory approaches”). Currently, I am working on interesting project for my thesis, focusing on the bee fauna of grasslands in Latvia. My research aims to understand the differences between degraded, restored, and reference sites.

The Importance of Bees and Grasslands

Wild bees play a crucial role in our ecosystems as pollinators, contributing to the maintenance of genetic diversity in flowering plant populations, as well as the production of fruits and seeds. Grasslands are habitats where pollinators nest and obtain resources. These vital environments are undergoing degradation as a consequence of human activities, notably agricultural expansion and intensification, pollution, and the use of insecticides. Restoration efforts are essential to prevent further loss of habitats. Understanding how different grassland conditions affect bee populations can provide valuable insights for developing conservation and restoration strategies.

My Research Focus

As part of my research, I am conducting multiple transects across various grassland habitats to catch and identify bee species. By comparing degraded, restored, and reference sites, I aim to uncover patterns and differences in bee diversity and abundance. Degraded sites are areas used for intensive farming; these serve as the negative control group. Reference sites, which consist of remnant grasslands that represent the target for restored grasslands, constitute the positive control group. Additionally, I am documenting flowering plant species present in each transect, which provides the opportunity to investigate potential relationships between the availability of floral resources and the presence of bees.

Methodology: Transects and Identification

At the beginning of May, I started monitoring several transects distributed across eight farms in Latvia that are associated with the LIFE projects GrassLIFE and/or GrassLIFE2, coordinated by the Latvian Fund for Nature and aimed at the conservation and restoration of semi-natural grasslands. Each transect involves a systematic survey of the grassland, during which I capture bees using insect nets and record the variety and abundance of flowering plants. Back at the BSC office, I identify captured specimens to the species level and work on the data analyses. I will continue the fieldwork until the end of August, so I can conduct multiple monitoring rounds of each transect over time to gain insight into temporal variations in bee populations and flowering vegetation.

Preliminary Findings and Insights

Initial observations suggest interesting differences in bee communities across the different site types. Degraded and restored sites often show lower bee presence, while reference sites tend to support more diverse bee populations. At this point, I think that the lower bee communities in restored sites is potentially caused by the recent restoration activities and more time is needed for the grasslands to develop into a more diverse state. The diversity of flowering plants seems to play a significant role, highlighting the importance of floral resources in supporting bee communities. Regarding the composition of bee species, one of the most fascinating findings for me so far is observing the presence of bee species that have disappeared in the Netherlands, such as the two-coloured mason-bee (Osmia bicolor). As a side note, I enjoy exploring the Latvian landscape during my fieldwork. Just step out of Riga and you will find yourself surrounded by nature, with lush forests, serene lakes, and rolling hills. It is quite different compared to the Netherlands, where the landscape is used more intensively for agriculture and urbanisation.

Looking Ahead

As I continue my research, I am excited to collect more data over the upcoming period and to dive deeper into analysing data. This is an opportunity to examine the diversity of bee species in Latvia more closely, and I hope my work will contribute to broader efforts aimed at protecting pollinators and the habitats they depend on. I look forward to sharing my findings and contributing the knowledge that can drive positive environmental change.


                            Photo by: Francis Edwardes                                                                                      Photo by: Anda Adamsone-Fiskovica