Bee (Apoidea) community response to perennial grass treatments managed for livestock production and conservation.
Most grasslands world-wide have been converted into various row crops for agriculture and pasture for livestock foraging. This conversion has likely disrupted arthropod communities, including pollinating bee communities. Pollinating native bees have been in decline in recent decades and much of this decline has been attributed to intensive agricultural practices. Native warm-season grasses have been promoted as alternatives to non-native grasses [e.g., bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)] in beef production systems. Reestablishing native grasses may provide an opportunity for land-sharing where agricultural production can enable conservation practices that potentially enhance bee biodiversity. Therefore, agricultural practices such as growing native perennial grasses for livestock forage that may minimize pollinating bee community disruption should be considered. We used colored pan traps to collect bees in four treatments of perennial grass plantings associated with operational livestock pastures during 2011-2012. The four treatments were: (1) mix of Bermuda and tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus) grass grazed with cattle; (2) monocultures of Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) grazed with cattle; (3) native grass polyculture [(Indiangrass), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)] grazed with cattle; and (4) native grass polyculture without cattle. We generally documented greater abundances and richness of bees in native grass treatments compared to exotic grass treatments; however, treatment-level differences were bee genera- or species-dependent. Lack of grazing in the native grass mixture treatment did result in higher bee abundance and taxa richness compared to the native grass mixture treatment with cattle. Our results support the conception that perennial native grasses have the potential to attract numerous, beneficial bee species and may provide some pollen rewards and suitable nesting substrate for bees. Therefore, using native perennial grasses as livestock forage may be a more ecologically friendly surrogate to non-native forage used for livestock production to promote pollination services and native bee diversity in agricultural lands.