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Native Plant Pollinators of NCW

with Dr. Bob Gillespie

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pollinating insects have a big job, helping plants produce fruit not only in gardens and orchards, but also among many native species like wild strawberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, wax currants, and others that require pollination to reproduce. Dr. Bob Gillespie is helping keep track of our native pollinators, making observations and assessing how well they are functioning. On Friday, March 1st, Bob came to Highland Wonders to share about the surprising diversity of species pollinating the native plants in our region.

OHA thanks Tom Munson for sharing the Honey Bee photo at the left of the page.

Dr. Bob Gillespie shared fascinating facts about our region's native plant pollinators. He spoke primarily about Hymenoptera, one of the largest orders of insects (bees, wasps, sawflies, ants), but also discussed other pollinators such as flies and beetles. We learned that there are over 500 species of bees in WA State, with much diversity still to be studied.

"Studying the varied associations and interactions of pollinators and plants is always fascinating and awe inspiring," Bob says. "I am amazed by the intricate ways in which a plant and an insect are adapted to each other like a hand and glove." The presentation helped participants learn to identify pollinators of native plants and provided insight into their unique and diverse natural histories. Factors that impact honeybees and some of our native bumblebee populations were also discussed, along with the successes and challenges of native plant pollination in our area.  


Bob described the tiny but highly effective adaptations used by pollinators to protect themselves, to fly efficiently, and to gather pollen and nectar. He provided tips for identifying pollinators, based on how closely fused the abdomen is to the thorax (narrow or broad).  Differences among bees were described, including their dietary requirements, which can range from being plant-feeding, predatory or parasitic, as well as social vs. solitary strategies for survival. Bob also brought three cases of bee containing approximately 250 specimens for the audience to examine up close.

Bob Gillespie helped lead the July 2012 Highland Wonders habitat tour of wetlands in the highlands, explaining the roles of insects in the wetlands we visited.
Bob Gillespie is a faculty member at Wenatchee Valley College, in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department. He has a Master’s degree in entomology from the University of Idaho and a Doctorate in biology from Montana State University. His areas of professional interest are native plants and native plant pollinators, as well as native plant restoration. Bob has provided field assistance to a variety of pollinator surveys, and as a result, has gleaned a unique knowledge of pollinating insects in our region.