Power Lines May Make a New Kind of Buzz—As Home for Bees

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To find out just how good the habitat was, she and her colleagues compared the variety and number of bees on the land under the power lines with bees in nearby grassy fields that were mowed regularly.

The researchers found that the total number of bees in the two habitats was about equal, but a much more diverse community of bees lived under the power lines, which is "what you look for in a healthy habitat," Russell said.

The areas under the power lines developed a variety of plants that flower at different times throughout the spring and summer, providing a consistent, evolving food source for the bees.

Conserving Bees

Why all the buzz about bees?

Bees are important pollinators, which plants need to reproduce.

Today many U.S. farmers rely on European honeybees to pollinate their crops. But diseases, mites, and pesticides have devastated these bee populations in recent decades.

As a result farmers are concerned their crops may not be pollinated.

In recent years scientists such as Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, have suggested that wild, native bees can take up the slack.

But the native bees need habitat when they're not lending their pollination services to crops.

Kremen's research shows that organic farms surrounded by native vegetation attract the most native bees.

Russell said that power lines, which slice through vast swaths of farmlands, could also serve as a bee refuge.

"[Utilities] have a PR problem," she said. "If they can put up a sign that says Wildlife Refuge, maybe people will dislike the lines less. There's an opportunity there we should follow up on."

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