Researchers Find Thriving Bee Populations in Power Line Corridors

Without electricity, our society and daily lives would look very different. Power allows us to light our homes, drive our cars, and browse the internet in our spare time. In many ways, power and electricity are the foundations of many of the advances humanity has seen in recent history. Unfortunately, many people consider the realities of our electric lives to be ugly, taking over the natural landscape in the form of power lines and grids.

Although these power corridors may not look like much, they provide valuable habitat for plants and animals. These wide spaces in the midst of forests and other ecological zones in New England have been shown to provide habitats for native plants, animals, migrating birds, bees and bats, and much more.


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Studying Biodiversity in Power Corridors

Researchers have turned their eyes to the unique nature of the species that reside in power corridors, focusing on areas in New England. In 2017, a group of researchers and undergraduate students surveyed the bee populations of 27 sites selected at random between a section of power lines running through Connecticut to New Hampshire. The team studied the bee populations located in the forests near the power lines, and then the power line corridor itself.

University of Connecticut students net bees as part of a transmission line corridor bee count. Photo: David L. Wagner.

University of Connecticut students net bees as part of a transmission line corridor bee count. Photo: David L. Wagner.

These open and maintained spaces are reminiscent of other successional habitats located in New England. Successional habitats are spaces like fields or pastures that have been left to return back to nature. These spaces that once grew crops or housed livestock now provided essential habitats for native New England species of plants and animals, including toads, turtles, cottontails, and birds of many kinds.

Bee Populations in Power Line Corridors

The research team found that the bee populations located in the power line corridors were nearly ten times as high as the bee populations living in the more forested areas nearby. Additionally, the corridor boasted double the number of species of bees as compared to the forest. These bee species included two very rare and protected bees.

This beautiful metallic bee, Augochlorella aurata, is found in transmission line corridors across the eastern United States and Canada. Photo: David L. Wagner.

This beautiful metallic bee, Augochlorella aurata, is found in transmission line corridors across the eastern United States and Canada. Photo: David L. Wagner.

Half of all the known species of bees that live in New England were found in the 27 plots the team studied. The team also recorded over 200 state-protected plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds living in the open places.

Although there were many factors in play, the team discussed the abundance of nectar resources in the power line corridors as one reason why the bees continued to thrive.

The Study

Wagner, D. L., Metzler, K. J., & Frye, H. (2019). Importance of transmission line corridors for conservation of native bees and other wildlife. Biological Conservation, 235, 147-156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.03.042

Wagner, David L., Frye, Henry. 3 October 2019. New England power line corridors harbor rare bees and other wild things. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/new-england-power-line-corridors-harbor-rare-bees-and-other-wild-things-122013

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