Minnesota's native bee population remains a mystery for researchers

AP Photo | Xerces Society, Eter Schroeder

How many different types of native bees are there in Minnesota?

"About 500," guesses researcher Dan Cariveau. He doesn't know for sure, but it's one of many questions drawing him from Rutgers University in New Jersey to the U of M Bee Lab.

Cariveau will join other bee researchers in the new Bee and Pollinator research building which breaks ground in August.

He's the first researcher at the U to focus solely on native bees.

"The state of Minnesota has a lot of interest in figuring out which native bees are here, and how important they are to agriculture and native plants. Very few states at that level of interest," Cariveau told MPR News host Tom Weber.

One bee Cariveau is keen on understanding is the rusty-patched bumblebee. The bee was once commonly seen in Minnesota, but today is nearly extinct.

"Bees need a specific type of habitat. They all need flower products. Pollen for their young and for themselves, nectar for themselves. They need good flora resources," he said.

"I'm interested in what kind of habitat they need and how can we create and build a habitat for these bees to help increase their populations," Cariveau added.

85 percent of plants rely on animals to move their pollen around, and bees are responsible for a majority of that job.

MPR News intern Destanie Martin-Johnson contributed to this story

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