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Green spaces provide a refuge for urban pollinators

More than 350 cities in the United States are considered “legacy cities” – industrial hubs whose heyday has long since passed, changing demographics and economic circumstances leaving much of the infrastructure to decay. Rather than let these buildings crumble on their own, many communities are instead choosing to make these communal green spaces to benefit the city at large.

The race to make these abandoned urban spaces “green” are seen by many as a way to reintroduce biodiversity to areas that have been ecologically impoverished for too long. Now, new research shows just how these green spaces can help one of our most important pollinators – bees.

The research, conducted by conservation biologists at the Ohio State University, looked at small plots of vacant land in Cleveland, Ohio over a period of three years. The plots varied in type, ranging from vacant lots to lightly maintained lawns to small flowering prairies. 

Unsurprisingly, the scientists found that more contiguous green spaces were home to the most productive bee colonies. They also found that areas with more native plants had a greater variety of bee and wasp species, making a bigger contribution to urban biodiversity compared to spaces that were heavily managed. 

This work has shown that some proportion of the bees and wasp community will respond to larger patches of green space being reinstituted in the landscape, even if they are not the natural habitat that was there pre-development. And I think that’s really exciting,” said study co-author Dr. Mary M. Gardiner.

Bees are not just important for ecological reasons – they also provide direct economic benefits to human citydwellers. Cleveland alone has over 200 community farms and gardens.

“Both urban and rural farms require pollinators for efficient crop productivity because bee visitations can enhance crop quality and quantity,” explained study lead author Katherine J. Turo.

Hopefully, greening initiatives will offer refuge for bees and wasps in the midst of habitat loss and climate change. These are, in Turo’s words, huge issues that aren’t going away anytime soon. 

The study is published in the journal Conservation Biology.

By Alex Ruger, Staff Writer

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