Powdermill Nature Reserve

Grassland Ecology

beeBetty S. Ferster, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology at Shippensburg University has been studying bee diversity at Powdermill Nature Reserve since 2001.

In ecological studies it is often important to be able to measure ecosystem function and health, but researchers struggle to find ways to measure the health of an ecosystem. Using bee diversity solves many of the concerns raised about studies using single species, because there are diverse species that vary on a basic bee life history strategy. All bees rear young on pollen and nectar from flowering plants, but species differ in range of suitable host plants and in nesting habits. Current methods of maintaining open grassland areas for conservation (fall mowing and prescribed burning) may not support healthy native species diversity, but examining ecosystem function as a consequence of stewardship practices is not commonly done.

Ferster has been collecting bees at Powdermill in the Crisp Pond area and at the Freidline fields since 2001 in order to learn about the bee diversity found in open areas that are maintained for bird diversity. She is working to compare these data with bee diversity and plant diversity data collected at other Pennsylvania sites that differ in the types of disturbances that are used to maintain open areas for a variety of purposes. She hopes to be able to show that bee diversity can be used to measure ecosystem health and function, and to help us understand what methods work best for maintaining biodiversity in old-field grassland habitats of the northeastern United States.