OSU Study Finds Increase in Bee Diversity after Fires

While forest fires are often very destructive for humans, as the hundreds evacuated from Sisters in mid-August learned firsthand, they can have a positive impact on other earthlings. A new study at Oregon State University suggests that wildfires help Oregon’s wild bees. 

Preliminary results from a study led by OSU Forest Wildlife Ecologist, Jim Rivers, shows that moderate and severe wildfires increase the diversity of wild bees as they thrive in the regenerating landscapes. This is good news for Oregon, which is home to over 500 species.

The study began in 2016 and will end this year. It has focused on 43 sites north of Grants Pass that were affected by the 2013 Douglas Complex fire. The sites range from those minimally affected to those severely affected.

Sara M. Galbraith, a post-doctoral researcher working on the study with Rivers, described the low-severity sites in an OSU press release. 

“The canopy is completely closed, and the trees are usually older. There isn’t a lot of evidence of fire except for some blackened areas on some of the tree trunks,” said Galbraith. 

In places of high severity, as Galbraith described them, “It’s a completely open canopy. There are a lot of flowering plants in the understory because the light limitation is gone.”

Forests at an early stage of development, like those recently burned, are known as early seral forests. Studying early seral forests has become less common, but there’s still knowledge to be gained.

Galbraith summed up the significance of the study so far, saying, “This research adds to the evidence that there is high biodiversity in early seral forests relative to older stands, and moving forward, this could have an impact on services like pollination in the landscape overall. Without this fundamental information, we can’t be sure of the best management actions to conserve pollinator populations within managed forests.”

By Andy Hahn