The land area covered by powerline easements in the United States exceeds the area of almost all national parks, including Yellowstone. In parts of Europe and the US, electric companies have altered their land management practices from periodic mowing to extraction of tall vegetation combined with the use of selective herbicides. To investigate whether this alternate management practice might produce higher quality habitat for native bees, we compared the bee fauna collected in unmowed powerline corridors and in nearby mowed grassy fields at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (MD). Powerline sites had more spatially and numerically rare species and a richer bee community than the grassy fields, although the difference was less pronounced than we expected. Powerline sites also had more parasitic species and more cavitynesting bees. Bee communities changed progressively through the season, but differences between the site types were persistent. The surrounding, nongrassland landscape likely has a strong influence on the bee species collected at the grassland sites, as some bees may be foraging in the grasslands but nesting elsewhere. Improving habitat for native bees will help ameliorate the loss of pollination services caused by the collapse of wild and managed honeybee populations. This study suggests that powerline strips have the potential to provide five million acres of bee-friendly habitat in the US if utilities more generally adopt appropriate management practices.
Additional publication details
The potential conservation value of unmowed powerline strips for native bees