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Wild bee diversity increases with local fire severity in a fire‐prone landscape

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As wildfire activity increases in many regions of the world, it is imperative that we understand how key components of fire‐prone ecosystems respond to spatial variation in fire characteristics. Pollinators provide a foundation for ecological communities by assisting in the reproduction of native plants, yet our understanding of how pollinators such as wild bees respond to variation in fire severity is limited, particularly for forest ecosystems. Here, we took advantage of a natural experiment created by a large‐scale, mixed‐severity wildfire to provide the first assessment of how wild bee communities are shaped by fire severity in mixed‐conifer forest. We sampled bees in the Douglas Fire Complex, a 19,000‐ha fire in southern Oregon, USA, to evaluate how bee communities responded to local‐scale fire severity. We found that fire severity served a strong driver of bee diversity: 20 times more individuals and 11 times more species were captured in areas that experienced high fire severity relative to areas with the lowest fire severity. In addition, we found pronounced seasonality in the local bee community, with more individuals and more species captured during late summer, especially in severely burned regions of the landscape. Two critical habitat components for maintaining bee populations—flowering plants and boring insect exit holes used by cavity‐nesting bees—also increased with fire severity. Although we detected shifts in the relative abundance of several bee and plant genera along the fire severity gradient, the two most abundant bee genera (Bombus and Halictus) responded positively to high fire severity despite differences in their typical foraging ranges. Our study demonstrates that within a large wildfire mosaic, severely burned forest contained the most diverse wild bee communities. This finding has particularly important implications for biodiversity in fire‐prone areas given the expected expansion of wildfires in the coming decades.

S.M. Galbraith

Galbraith SM. Wild bee diversity increases with local fire severity in a fire‐prone landscape Cane JH. Ecosphere. 2019 ;10(4).

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