Conservation Success Stories: OKC Zoo Contributes to Bee Research and Conservation

Do you bee-lieve in conservation? Here at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, we believe in the importance of conserving the world’s wildlife and wild places. In 2020, the Zoo contributed over $220,000 to benefit local and global conservation efforts. Much of this funding was raised through the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation initiative, a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation, as well as donations through the Oklahoma Zoological Society (OKC ZOOfriends) and the Zoo’s animal art exhibition, Art Gone Wild. The Zoo is proud to have contributed to 10 conservation success stories in 2020. One of those focused on the study and conservation of native bees.

There are more than 20,000 bee species worldwide, many of which are suffering population decline. Bees are an essential part of the earth's ecosystem. These buzzing busybodies are pollinators, meaning that they carry pollen from one flower to another. The transfer of pollen allows for fertilization, which produces fruits and seeds that makeup about one third of the food we eat. Approximately 250,000 species of flowering plants are dependent upon bees for their crucial pollination services. Only one type of bee, the honey bee, produces honey, which sustains the hive during the winter and  is used for human consumption. Honey bees also produce beeswax, which contributes millions of dollars to the global economy each year. Bees are important to not only plants and humans, but also animals as well. Bee larva can serve as an important source of protein for bears, birds and other organisms. These invaluable contributions prove that the world depends on bees to keep on buzzing.

The Zoo was able to raise funds to support bee conservation through multiple sources in 2020, including a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation and the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation initiative. With that funding, Zoo participated in a study being led by a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma to conduct a study of native bees found on Zoo grounds. The study was conducted to better understand the role of urban landscapes in native bee biodiversity. Bee researcher, José Montalva, was able to identify 60 species of native bees at the Zoo, including two species of bumble bees - the two-spotted bumble bee and black and gold bumble bee - thought to be extinct in Oklahoma! This demonstrates that urban areas can provide vital habitat for native species and that the Zoo supports a thriving community of native bees.

How can you help bees and pollinators? Plant a pollinator garden. Consider creating a garden at home, school, work or in your neighboorhood.

Providing habitat is important to the conservation of bees and other pollinator species. It’s easy, here are some tips to get started with planting and maintaining a successful pollinator garden. First, when should you start? You can get started anytime in the spring, summer, or fall as long as it is before the first frost. What should you plant? Native nectar producing plants are best and will attract a large variety of native pollinators. Be sure to choose a variety of plants with different blooming periods. This ensures that nectar is available from spring through fall. Milkweed is also a great option because monarch butterflies exclusively lay their eggs on these plants.  Many native plants, including milkweed, are  perennial, meaning they will grow  back every year. They are also adapted to Oklahoma’s variable weather and require very little care once they are established. Make sure you purchase plants from nurseries that do not use pesticides or insecticides as these are harmful to pollinators and other animals. When you are ready to plant your garden be sure to choose a spot that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, that the soil is raked and clear of debris, and that the garden is close to a water source. The plants will require regular watering until they are established. Lastly, make sure to register your garden at http://www.okiesformonarchs.org/register/ as part of a state and nationwide effort to track habitat increases for pollinators.

Wildlife and wild places are rapidly disappearing. The Zoo is working to save wildlife in Oklahoma and around the world. It’s our passion, and we need your help. Please join in our conservation efforts by planting native plants for bees and other pollinators. You can start your pollinator garden off on the right foot by purchasing the zoo’s premium compost, Zoo Poo, at the Zoo’s Guest Services office and visiting www.okiesformonarchs.org. You can also help by participating in the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation initiative when visiting or by becoming a ZOOfriends member.

To find out more about the Zoo’s conservation efforts, visit https://www.okczoo.org/conservation-projects

 

- Dr. Rebecca Snyder, PhD, director of conservation and science

 
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