Fire serves a vital role in our ecosystem. Forest managers often — also called a "controlled" burn — to mimic the natural fires in forests and grasslands that may stimulate , reveal in the soil, and increase seed vitality. Prescribed burns are performed by highly-trained individuals to in the ecosystem. Certain tree species like lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and the famous sequoia actually require fire to open their pinecones and release their seeds.
But do these burns help pollinators? A recent study from researchers at North Carolina State University examined the impact of prescribed burns on the native bee community in the Sandhills area of North Carolina. Bees are important insect pollinators of grasslands that depend on natural fire for ecological production. But fire destroys and removes flowering plants visited by bees. So how could fire help bees?
The study involved taking diversity counts — that is, placing traps to catch bees and identifying them at the species level — at sites that had been burned within two years and sites that hadn't been burned.
The researchers found there were 2.3 times more bees captured in more recently burned forest sites than in the unburned sites.
Researchers found there were more flowering plants at recently burned sites, increasing the diversity of flowers to benefit bees. Burns were conducted during the winter season, so as not to burn up that may serve as bee over-wintering habitat.
Forest ecosystems that require fire for growth are found across the country. Fire benefits forest and prairie ecosystems by stimulated tree growth and increasing the diversity and presence of native plants such as Echinacea, providing food sources for bee species. Prescribed burns are a powerful tool for land managers, and this study is one of a growing number aiming to show the benefits of prescribed burns for bees.