Energy and Wildlife: Research


Understanding mutualistic interactions between plants and animal pollinators is important for sustaining ecosystem function and maintaining pollinator communities that support agriculture. Pollinators are facing declines, in part due to reduced forage diversity and abundance, land-use change, pathogens, disease, pesticide exposure, and socio-economic factors. USGS is studying how land-use change affects pollinator health and productivity and is developing strategies to improve forage available to honey bees and native pollinators.

Understanding Risks

USGS is studying the impact of biofuel crop production on pollinator health and pollination services in the Northern Great Plains. We are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to quantify how recent reductions in USDA conservation program enrollments affects pollinator habitat. We are also developing a risk assessment model to identify what portions of the Northern Great Plains have undergone the most significant land-use changes (due to biofuel crop development) and also support the highest density of commercial beekeepers. This research project is designed to address several of the key information needs proposed in President Obama’s Federal Strategy for Pollinator Conservation.

Related products: Project Video

Measuring Impacts

USGS recently developed a genetic sequencing technique to identify pollen collected by foraging bees. This technique is currently being applied to understand how land-use change and biofuel crop development affects forage for pollinators in agro-ecosystems. We are also evaluating specific plants that can be used in restoration programs for pollinators.

Related Publication: Taxonomic Characterization of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Pollen Foraging Based on Non-Overlapping Paired-End Sequencing of Nuclear Ribosomal Loci

We have developed an end-user tool for land managers to use when designing conservation seeding mixes for land enhancement programs. This tool will be useful for promoting habitat for pollinators in areas where marginal lands are retired from biofuel crop production.

Related products: Pollinator Library

Developing Solutions

USGS is working closely with USDA to quantify the benefits of USDA conservation lands for supporting health pollinator populations in the Northern Great Plains. USGS models are being used by USDA to prioritize areas within the Northern Great Plains for conservation investment and also improve the cost-effectiveness of specific seed mixes used when establishing conservation grassland on retired agricultural fields.

Lead Scientists

Clint Otto
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
p: (701) 253-5563


Top Photo: Leaf cutting bee. Photo courtesy of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.