Controlled forest fires benefit bees and pollinating insects

It may seem paradoxical but fire is at least as essential to the forests as rain. Essential not only for plants but also for several animals, primarily insects, which live in these habitats. A new study examines the impact that so-called “prescribed fires,” i.e. controlled forest fires, can have on pollinating insects, primarily bees.

According to Elsa Youngsteadt, professor of the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University and author of a new study published in Environmental Entomology, it is important to understand how controlled fires, which are increasingly being used because their usefulness is increasingly understood, can affect insects in general and pollinating insects in particular.

To carry out their studies near a reserve of long-leaved pines, a pine tree in danger of extinction, the researchers placed bee “traps” in 16 sites that had or had not suffered fires in a year or two before sampling. In the end, they found that the sites that had been burned tolerated 2.3 times more pollinating insects in total than those that had not been burned.

In addition, sites that had been burnt previously showed more different species of bees than sites that had not been burnt. In general, sites that had been burned showed a greater abundance and biodiversity in terms of pollinating insects than those that had not been burned.

The researchers also found that low-intensity controlled fires did not reduce the amount of nesting material for pollinators and the same abundance of pollinating insects was not affected by fires. Underground nesting insect species also seemed to benefit from fires that provided greater access to bare soil.