Pollination Ecologist Neal Williams: The Importance of Native Bees

Did you know that California is home to more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees—most of them native—that populate and pollinate our gardens, fields, and urban green spaces?--Source: California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.

You can learn more about native bee and their importance when pollination ecologist Neal Williams, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a 2015-2020 Chancellor's Fellow, present a talk on "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them" at the California Honey Festival on Saturday, May 6.

The annual event, free and family friendly, takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in downtown Woodland. 

"Pollination by insects, mostly bees, is critical to human wellbeing," Professor Williams said. "An astonishing 75 percent of food crops benefit to some extent from pollination, most of it provided by managed and wild bees. When thinking about pollination of crops, most of us consider honey bees–and they are a critical part of crop pollination.  However, native bees also play an important role and in some cases are better pollinators of crops than honey bees. In the presentation, I will provide an overview of the diversity, life history and biology of native bees. I will then discuss how we can use an understanding of bee biology to help sustain and promote diverse communities of wild bees."

Williams' research interests include pollination ecology, bee biology with emphasis on foraging behavior, ecology and evolution of trophic specialization and plant-pollinator interactions, landscape change and community dynamics, ecosystem services and conservation

The California Honey Festival, launched in 2017 to celebrate the importance of bees and to promote honey and honey bees and their products, last year drew a crowd of 40,000. 

Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute, and a co-founder of the festival, announced the list of speakers who will deliver 20 to 30-minute talks on the UC Davis Speakers' Stage, located just west of First Street.

The schedule on the UC Davis Speakers' Stage: 

10:30 a.m.: Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who will discuss "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them"

11 a.m.: Kitty Bolte, GATEways horticulturist, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, "Planting Your Garden to be a Welcoming Space for Pollinators"  

12 noon: Amina Harris,  director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and co-owner of Z Food Specialty and The HIVE, Woodland, "Let's Learn to Taste Honey."

1 p.m.: Wendy Mather, co-program manager of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "So, You Want to Be a Beekeeper?" 

1:30 p.m.: Jean-Philippe Marelli, senior director of Integrated Pest Management for Mars Wrigley Confectionery (also a journey level master beekeeper and Melipona beekeeper in Brazil), "Stingless Bees: The Amazing World of Melipona Bees"

2 p.m.: Cooperative Extension apiculturist/associate professor Elina Lastro Niño of Entomology and Nematology, and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "What Our Bee Research Is Teaching Us."

2:30 p.m.: Sanmu "Samtso" Caoji, a 2022-23 Hubert Humphrey fellow, and founder of the Shangri-la Gyalthang Academy, and CEO of the Cultural Information Consulting Company, "Empowering Women to Become Beekeepers and Bread Winners for Their Families While Keeping Bees in the Wild"

3 p.m.: Rachel Davis, coordinator of Bee City USA Woodland and chair of Bee Campus USA UC Davis (GATEways Horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden), "Woodland Is a Bee City; UC Davis Is a Bee City--What This Means to Our Communities"

UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey will provide a background slide show of honey bees and native bees.

The event is both educational and entertaining. Attendees can taste honey, check out the  bee observation hives, watch cooking demonstrations and kids' shows, taste mead and other alcoholic drinks (if of age) and learn about bees from beekeepers and bee scientists. Vendors, offering various products and food, will line the streets.

The UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program,  founded in 2016 by Niño,  provides a program of learning, teaching, research, and public service. They offer comprehensive, science-based information about honey bees and honey bee health.  Since 2016, the organization has donated 32,000 hours of volunteer time and served 186,630 individuals in education, outreach and beekeeping mentorship. Read more about their classes and their work on their website.

An after-party will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at The HIVE Tasting Room and Kitchen, 1221 Harter Ave., Woodland.  It will feature pollinator-inspired food, drinks, and dancing to the music of Joy and Madness, an 8-piece soul and funk group.  Tickets are $20 and will benefit the California Master Beekeeper Program. "Each ticket includes entry to win a bountiful Yolo County food and drink basket (value $500)," Harris said.  More information is on this website.