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High-severity wildfire limits available floral pollen quality and bumble bee nutrition compared to mixed-severity burns

Author(s): Michael P. Simanonok, Laura A. Burkle
Year Published: 2020

High-severity wildfires, which can homogenize floral communities, are becoming more common relative to historic mixed-severity fire regimes in the Northern Rockies of the U.S. High-severity wildfire could negatively affect bumble bees, which are typically diet generalists, if floral species of inadequate pollen quality dominate the landscape post-burn. High-severity wildfires often require more time to return to pre-burn vegetation composition, and thus, effects of high-severity burns may persist past initial impacts. We investigated how wildfire severity (mixed- vs. high-severity) and time-since-burn affected available floral pollen quality, corbicular pollen quality, and bumble bee nutrition using percent nitrogen as a proxy for pollen quality and bumble bee nutrition. We found that community-weighted mean floral pollen nitrogen, corbicular pollen nitrogen, and bumble bee nitrogen were greater on average by 0.82%N, 0.60%N, and 1.16%N, respectively, in mixed-severity burns. This pattern of enhanced floral pollen nitrogen in mixed-severity burns was likely driven by the floral community, as community-weighted mean floral pollen percent nitrogen explained 87.4% of deviance in floral community composition. Only bee percent nitrogen varied with time-since-burn, increasing by 0.33%N per year. If these patterns persist across systems, our findings suggest that although wildfire is an essential ecosystem process, there are negative early successional impacts of high-severity wildfires on bumble bees and potentially on other pollen-dependent organisms via reductions in available pollen quality and nutrition. This work examines a previously unexplored pathway for how disturbances can influence native bee success via altering the nutritional landscape of pollen.

Citation: Simanonok, Michael P.; Burkle, Laura A. 2020. High-severity wildfire limits available floral pollen quality and bumble bee nutrition compared to mixed-severity burns. Oecologia 192(2):489-499.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Wildlife, Fire & Wildlife, Invertebrates, Pollinators
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20835
FRAMES RCS number: 60523
Record updated: Mar 12, 2020