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March 25, 2024

38 Minutes

Guests: Kass Urban-Mead

Tags: pollinators, staff guests, habitat, bees,

For many of us, if we were asked to describe a place that is good for bees, we’d likely talk about somewhere that is open, sunny, and full of flowers — a garden, meadow, prairie, or hedgerow, maybe. The chances are that forests wouldn’t be high on that list. However, forests provide important resources for bees.

Guest Information

In this episode, we are joined by Kass Urban-Mead to talk about forests and bees. Kass works for the Xerces Society as a pollinator conservation specialist and NRCS partner biologist based in Philadelphia. From there, she collaborates with communities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions to plan, design, install, and manage habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. She also climbed a lot of trees to study bees while completing her PhD at Cornell.

Show Notes & Links

In this episode, we talk about the role trees and forests play in providing habitat for bees. From floral resources to nesting habitat, forests are critical for bees on the landscape.


Rachel: Welcome to Bug Banter with the Xerces society where we explore the world of invertebrates and how to help these extraordinary animals. If you want to support our work go to

Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew Shepherd in Portland, Oregon.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel Dunham in Missoula, Montana.

Matthew: For many of us, if we were asked to describe a place that is good for bees, I suspect that we’d talk about somewhere that is open, sunny, and full of flowers — a garden, meadow, prairie, or hedgerow, maybe. The chances are that forests wouldn’t be high on that list. However, forests provide important resources for bees.

Matthew: Joining us today to talk about forests and bees is Kass Urban-Mead. Kass works for the Xerces Society as a pollinator conservation specialist and NRCS partner biologist based in Philadelphia. From there, she collaborates with communities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions to plan, design, install, and manage habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. She also climbed a lot of trees to study bees while completing her PhD at Cornell.

Matthew: Welcome, Kass.

Kass: Thank you so much, Matthew and Rachel. It's such a pleasure to be here.

Rachel: We're happy to have you here. So, your background includes a lot of interesting research looking at bees and forest habitat. Can you tell us about this research?

Kass: Sure. Wow, it's such an honor to be here. Thanks, guys. Yeah, and I totally agree, right?

Kass: Bees are all over open areas and, meadows and gardens and all these incredible resources that we provide through Xerces’ programs and all these incredible collaborators all the time. And so just want to say right off the bat, before going into the woods that meadows and gardens and hedgerows are amazing for bees.

Kass: And that's where I first fell in love with bees was working in meadows. And actually, during my master's degree I was doing some research in meadows in forested matrices at a field station for foresters.

Kass: And I kept going out all day, they'd go out really early and get covered in mosquitoes and I go like, okay, 10 o'clock, time to start sampling in my meadows and come back at dinner and talk to them about the woods.

Kass: I started thinking a lot more about the forest because I had been so interested in bees from an agricultural perspective and then was really interested in old field meadows.

Kass: I was working, in New England and New York primarily. And I started to think, huh, I wonder if there's more to the story in the forest, which I hadn't really been thinking about the forest earlier in my life.

Kass: And so, when I started my PhD, that was converging with a lot of newer research on what pollen bees were carrying in agricultural systems.

Kass: And so, looking at all this work in early spring orchards and other crops, people started finding really cool positive correlations between pollinator communities and nearby forest habitats or sampling in crop systems and finding interesting ratios of tree pollens and other resources that had come from forests while those pollinators were in ag systems.

Kass: And so, I think having been near the forest during some earlier formative stages of my life and some people who think really critically about forest health and forest ecology and then at the same time looking at agricultural systems at these little glimpses of evidence that maybe bees visiting our crops also cared about the forest as part of their life, I was like, huh, how can we put those things together?

Kass: So that's what inspired me and then other people kind of at the same time that maybe there's more going on in the forest than we thought. So, to tackle that question in my particular research, I had actually had the incredible opportunity, to take a tree climbing class at the beginning of my PhD work at Cornell.

Kass: And honestly, that was fun. I was like, I love forests, I love trees, what an amazing opportunity to take a PE class to balance out all this intense research.

Kass: And then I was up there in those trees and it was the fall at the time and I was like, huh, a lot of these trees are going to bloom in the spring.

Kass: And I've been thinking a lot about all that tree pollen that some earlier researchers had found carried by bees visiting apple orchards. I wonder if I could get out here in the trees in the early spring and see if those bees are in the woods before the orchards.

Kass: And so, my advisors were like, well, that's a little silly and a little hectic and but if it all falls apart you can always do a different research project in the summer.

Kass: So why don't you take the spring and try it out? And it turns out that climbing trees, is a ton of logistics.

Kass: It's hard to be in more than one tree at a time. I had an amazing team of undergraduates who were all Cornell tree climbers, but even so, they had classes and I had classes and so we saw a lot of really cool things that I can tell you about up there, but then we ended up doing a totally different kind of passive sampling technique to get other data for all of the other years in order to get more evidence.

Kass: We spent a lot of time climbing trees, looking at what was going on up there, particularly that spring, before setting up some more long-term trapping to get some of those bees from the canopy. Yeah, I'm going to stop there for now.

Matthew: So Kass mentioned that there were interesting things. Up there in the canopy when you climbed. What did you find and what kind of sampling could you do up there?

Kass: Yeah, the canopy is a really cool place. And in the spring, you're kind of waving in the branches, you see out over these small unfurling leaves depending on the tree. Maybe there's the little beginnings of the red maple flowers or the catkins of a sugar maple flower.

Kass: Or the catkins of an oak even and so if you wait for a bee you wait as the branches stop waving for a moment and then as soon as things still, all of a sudden sitting there in your harness, safety gear on, helmet on, net in hand,

Kass: The bees start to settle on the flowers and you can see them collecting pollen or connecting nectar depending on the species and what that tree has to offer.

Kass: And so, during that first year where we did as many trees as we could in the hectic-ness of spring weather, we saw large carpenter bees, we saw bumblebee queens, we saw lots of syrphid flies, some of our beloved fly pollinators who, some of whom are also really great for pest control and crop systems.

Kass: We love those guys. We saw Andrena, which are some of our early spring solitary flying bees, as well as Colletes, which are the genus that are the cellophane bees, one of our other newly common soil nesting solitary bees, that do aggregations in the spring.

Kass: So, this is really cool. Because a lot of these species we also see later in the spring, some of them like bumble bees, of course, have large colonies that are active in crops, in fields, in your gardens, in meadows later in the season, but we were seeing this kind of early spring behavior that we maybe hadn't paid as much attention to prior.

Matthew: You mentioned a net. I mean, normally with the net, we picture people running after things. But you couldn't do that in the trees.

Kass: That's true.

Matthew: Did you have like a really long handle or did you swing backwards and forwards or something?

Kass: Yeah, so this is why we ended up switching, to a passive sampling technique also because when you are in, at least a temperate deciduous hardwood forest, the flowers are out on the very end of the branches, right? They're not really very many of them in the middle near the sturdy branches that are safe for your body or safe for your undergraduate assistants who you're being very careful and protecting.

Kass: And so yeah, we would use different climbing techniques first to get up in the top of the tree. At the highest height we could get to safely with the rope over a central strong branch. And then we would use secondary ropes to kind of pull ourselves outward into a triangulated position.

Kass: Where then, with a kind of long net, you could hopefully reach some flowers. And one of my favorite and most frustrating sets of observations that I always share with people who think they want to get into this as a result is sometimes you can only get just out of reach and you can see in the sunshine the silhouettes of all the bees you want to catch against the sunlight as they visit all the flowers at the very tip top of the canopy where the most sunlit flowers are.

Kass: And so yeah, it was very, very cool. And actually, another really fun thing we saw up there was some unexpected nesting. And I can talk about this more because this is relevant from the forest floor all the way up we think to the canopy in nesting in deadwood and this is true not just for bees but for lots of really wonderful and important insects and other invertebrates who rely on dead and decaying wood.

Kass: That there are shiny green bees and shiny blue bees and a couple other species who will use abandoned beetle burrows and build their nests in those habitats.

Kass: And so, while up in the top of an otherwise a very, very healthy oak tree, one of my absolute favorite days, was there was this large dead branch.

Kass: It was very safe to be up there. I was on the healthy strong branches and could see one dead branch and there was a whole aggregation of shiny green Augochlora pura zipping in and out of that branch.

Kass: So, a lot of really cool kind of spatial variation. And we know from ecological forestry recommendations that snags and deadwood, and different ages, of course, woody debris are incredibly important for mammals, for birds, for salamanders, and are strongly recommended for bats.

Kass: Strongly recommended in a any forestry plan is to keep all that dead wood for wild organisms. And we know also that that is going to be true for some of these deadwood dependent pollinators.

Matthew: That's so amazing to have that opportunity to get up and actually see those things.

Kass: Absolutely, it's pretty wild.

Rachel: So, you had mentioned some more passive sampling methods. Once you got up in the trees and found all the useful and great information that you did, how did you continue on with your studies with those other methods?

Kass: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Rachel. So, you can only be in so many trees at once, right? And so, we set up, you may have heard folks following along Xerces’ work or other researchers.

Kass: There's this system called bee balls or Pan traps where you use yellow, white, and blue, cups and place them out. They'll attract bees and we actually want to be careful with overusing that, as unless you have a taxonomist on call and have a plan for processing the huge numbers of bees that that can capture.

Kass: So, just that caveat in there. And, there's also known biases in which taxa are attracted to this type of trapping. So that was part of why I chose it actually, because I didn't want to kill all the Bumblebee queens who might be out in the spring since each one of those may represent a new colony.

Kass: So, we took this preexisting, very well-established method, which has these known drawbacks, some of which I've referenced here, but lots of powerful techniques too and because it has known caveats we can kind of understand what we're seeing and how it likely extrapolates to the broader community.

Kass: And we adapted this cup method and put them vertically strung on strings in the canopy where you absolutely would not be able to see them as a bee from the forest floor. So, you would likely only encounter them if you were already up in the sky. And then we put paired traps down on the ground kind of as a reference, understory community reference.

Kass: And we let those run all spring all the way through the orchards blooming. So, we were working with this interest in apple orchards in my particular research and working in adjacent forests and we had this replicated across a landscape gradient in upstate New York.

Kass: And so, then we were able to first see who are the bees we catch in the canopy, who are the bees we catch in the understory, who are the bees we catch in the orchard? How are those similar and different across time? So, we found lots of female bees in the canopy.

Kass: We said, huh, I wonder if that means they're eating there. That doesn't demonstrate that they were eating there, but it was a suggestion that that might have been happening. We found a lot of male bees of orchard pollinators in the understory who never left the forest.

Kass: And so that helped us understand, oh, maybe when we're trying to manage for these female bees in the orchard, part of the reason we see so many of them in habitats near forests is because other stages of their life cycle are active in the woods.

Kass: And this can be true for bumblebees whose queens like to nest in the woods, some of our bumblebees are like that. And this can be true for some of these solitary bees like andrena who we were finding in the understory.

Kass: But their females of the same species would be in the orchard. And so, then we said, okay, we've figured out who is where, but what are they doing there?

Kass: And it's pretty hard to demonstrate that without being in every tree at once. And so, one way to start to get a first hint of insight into this kind of pattern is to look at the pollen that those bees are either carrying, or have provisioned to their offspring. And then we took an even weirder kind of strategy because the pan traps have liquid in them.

Kass: So, we actually looked in the digestive tracts of these adult bees, which is very unusual because adult bees don't actually eat that much relative to the amount of pollen that they're provisioning for their brood, but it at least was evidence that they had been on those flowers.

Kass: So, it's a step in the right direction. And we found that the bees that were in the canopy and the forest had eaten just huge amounts of maple and oak pollen, as well as later moving over and spilling over into the orchards and eating lots of rosaceous pollen from those crops.

Kass: So, we see this kind of transition over time from using lots of resources in the forest, both understory and canopy, and then as time goes on, moving over and becoming really important visitors and maybe really effective pollinators in adjacent crop systems.

Kass: Kind of a big idea. So, lots of cool follow up questions, but I think that's a good gist for now.

Matthew: Yeah, wow. I'm always amazed at what people can achieve through research and just the fact that you figure out how to look at and measure and record some of these things and just say, wow, I can never do something like that.

Kass: I bet you could. But pollen analysis is long and tedious work and very, very cool. Pollen is beautiful and incredible, but once you've done 300 and some 1,000 samples, you're kind of like, okay. That's a lot of sugar maple. Yeah, it is. It's really, really cool.

Kass: And the team, researchers and really incredible folks working from all different angles all help bring the story together.

Matthew: Yeah, definitely. Sure.

Kass: Actually, if I could tell another story, there's some other researchers who kind of at the same time were interested in Forest Bees. And, I'm thinking of group out of Rutgers in the Winfree Lab was doing some really careful community level sampling to see if they could identify bees that would be forest associated.

Kass: So, this is a really common kind of phenomenon if any of our listeners are birders, right? We're pretty used to thinking of birds that use open habitat and birds that use closed forest or birds that need a softwood inclusion or birds that move between different ones at different times of life.

Kass: And I think basically what this group was doing at least the way I think about it is helping bring that level of nuance to our super diverse native bee community. Where we often think of the bees on the flowers in our gardens like you started with. Yes, absolutely. But what about their whole life cycle? And so, what if there's different subsets of our bees that need different percentages of landscape cover?

Kass: And so, then we need a mosaic of landscape in order to support all of them. And so, this group at Rutgers was looking in hardwood deciduous forests and they were able to do very careful sampling where they looked at the species of bees that increased as mature forest cover increased in the surrounding area, both over time and at the landscape level.

Kass: And they found that over a third or about a third of the northeastern fauna that they were able to characterize was what they called completely forest associated and another third was partially forest associated.

Kass: Meaning needed forest for at least part of their lives. And those, bees that were fully forest associated are actually shown to have increased in historical records since land abandonment from colonial agriculture and forest regrowth over the past 150 years.

Kass: Whereas the open habitat associated bees did not respond to that land use change over the past 150 years. And so, when we think about this, historically, it makes sense because the vast majority of the Northeast and the East Coast is historically forested pre-colonially and over evolutionary time that these bees have evolved with.

Kass: Of course, these are not static forests. They're diverse forests that would have dealt with multiple weather-related disturbances, beaver dams, active indigenous management through fire and cutting and cultivation. And lots of different disturbances based on your micro habitat and region, right?

Kass: The disturbance regime is different. And so, you imagine being a bee. Kind of living multiple generations over tens and hundreds of thousands of years in this diverse changing forested landscape. It makes sense that we have bees that use the open gaps. We have bees that use the sunny patches.

Kass: We have bees that use blow downs and what we can recreate with careful ecological forestry to allow the simulation of those historical disturbances as well as bees that will use nearby nesting floral and overwintering resources in the darker, more mature habitats.

Rachel: You mentioned oaks and maples that you found a lot of bees pulling pollen from them. But I was going to ask you, are there particular types of forest that are better for bees or are all forests created equal? It kind of seems like bees make the most of what's there. Is that true or would you say there are some maybe more force types that are more helpful for bees?

Kass: Much like you wouldn't want to pick one tree and say all of America should be this tree because it's really good for bees. Similarly, different forest types are appropriate for different soils, different slopes, different landscape contexts.

Kass: The most important thing in thinking about whether your forest, maybe you have access because you own it, maybe that’s a community forest that you care about, maybe it’s a nearby park thinking about what the historical regime there was. Was this landscape that was historically burned and fire from lightening strikes and etc., or burned every 40 years and maybe had regular blow downs.

Kass: So, no I don’t think that there is a forest that is better or worse for bees. I think the most important thing is to think about what your site conditions and historical forest type would have been and then work with ecological foresters and climate and wildlife and future forest health-oriented managers in order to think about what will maximally make that forest healthy.

Kass: So that may mean a return of healthy levels of historical fire. We have lots of fire suppression, which has caused lots of threats to forest health. That can cascade through to pollinator communities by changing the canopy composition, changing the deadwood ratios, changing the spring ephemerals and other understory flower and grasses distribution, right?

Kass: And there are invertebrates who rely on each layer of that vegetation and each disturbance level. So, when we suppress those historical disturbances or lose those historically fire-driven relationships, we're going to lose huge suites of kind of the next layer of insect relationships.

Kass: A major one in the Northeast where I work, primarily has to do with our trees being almost all the same age. In kind of a broad sense because they all regrow after agriculture moved west and similarly we end up with less structural diversity, less age class diversity and a different species composition than we had pre-colonially due to that homogenization through land clearing and regrowth.

Kass: And then we have more pests and diseases. And incredibly high pressure from astronomically high deer density and very high invasive species pressure. And so, I think if you're not used to tuning in to thinking of forests as these dynamic heavily impacted systems both through historical disturbance whether fire or other they all had historical indigenous management of incredibly varied and sophisticated, variation across wherever you are in the US.

Kass: And then really strong stamps of legacy, from major events like colonial land clearing for agriculture in the Northeast. And so then with these current pressures I've mentioned like deer and invasive species, I think it can be really easy if you're not tuned to looking to forest health.

Kass: To think, well, I don't want to touch my forest. That's a place where bees are, you know, that's a place that's my safe space, I feel that same way about forests. They're beautiful, they're spiritually important for lots of different ways culturally, they're an emotional cathedral and a sacred place.

Kass: But actually, not managing them is also a decision to manage them because they've been so heavily impacted. They're missing historical patterns that they evolved with and they're facing enormous pressures.

Kass: So, in order to keep both the carbon sequestration value, the cultural value, the water filtration value, the soil's value, and then the pollinator value, through supporting all of these butterflies and moths, decomposers and pollinators including bees who will visit all these different layers of vegetation when they're healthy, we need to be thinking about those active stressors on our forest health and working with responsible land managers who will come in and help you make a plan to restore the health of those forests.

Rachel: That makes sense. That was great. I appreciate the historical perspective. I think as humans we just sort of see through our tiny historical lens of when we've existed as individuals.

Rachel: Thank you for explaining that. It was really interesting.

Kass: Thank you.

Matthew: Yeah, I just wanted to change the pace a little bit here instead of such broad historical but drill in a little bit. You mentioned the spring the spring ephemerals earlier, and also, some of the metallic green bees that nest in rotten wood.

Matthew: It seems like there are some particular features of forests that support specialized bees. Which I think we often don't realize, again, when we're thinking broad brush about these, there are some that are so specific. So, I mean initially the ephemeral flowers. Temporary period of bloom. Are the other bees that rely entirely upon those?

Matthew: Or is it just like one element that keeps them going all year.

Kass: No, you're absolutely right. So, these short periods of bloom, you know, if you were a regular listener to this awesome podcast, then you've heard about the lifecycle of a solitary bee, which is so different than our typical honey bee, right, with the colony active all year.

Kass: Instead, lots of our solitary bees have these short life cycles where just one female is in charge of provisioning enough pollen for next year's babies.

Kass: And she just does that over maybe 6 to 8 weeks maybe even less. She creates as many pollen balls with eggs on them as she can and then lets them go until next year.

Kass: Those eggs develop on that pollen that she's provisioned. And so, if you have a short life cycle like that, like these wonderful short flying solitary bees, you can start an evolutionary time notice, I say in quotes, that there's always this same flower blooming during your flight period.

Kass: And so, then you're a little bee and you've got to go back and forth all day getting up to maybe a third of your body weight in pollen to go drop off that pollen ball for the next baby.

Kass: You want your floral resources to be something you can get pretty efficiently, something that you can know how to handle that flower when you land on it, your search image is optimized and so maybe you say, hey I'm a little andrena originate, a little spring flying solitary andrena.

Kass: And I'm going to get really, really good. Right. I'm anthropomorphizing. We get really, really good at collecting claytonia pollen, spring beauty pollen. And so, there's all these different groups of wonderful solitary bees who have specialized on different spring ephemerals.

Kass: As far as we know, they need those spring ephemerals, those specific ones in order to provision their offspring. And it's just absolutely beautiful and sometimes they're so good at it that they're not even the best pollinator because they're not messy at all.

Kass: They don't even drop any pollen. They just take all of it and go home. And so, then you mentioned Matthew, you know, some of them is it just part of the story.

Kass: So, spring ephemerals do two really cool things. Some of them have really specialized hosts who rely on them and others of them do support more generalist pollinators like bumblebees who are out all year, right?

Kass: Bumble bees don't have these really short windows. They have longer flight periods for the whole colony so they can switch between flowers. But many bumble bees when they're the queen, a bumblebee comes out of hibernation. She's sleepy, she's hungry, she's got to start a whole new nest like Rich Hatfield described in his recent podcast, right?

Kass: That I definitely recommend if you haven't listened already. One of the resources that those bumblebees will go looking for are the nectar and pollen from those spring ephemerals on the forest floor.

Kass: And there's even research showing that our endangered rusty patched bumblebee relies heavily on spring ephemerals and that may be a bottleneck that is really important to the persistence of that actually federally listed species.

Kass: So yeah, lots of cool relationships happening with those flowers. Thanks for the question.

Matthew: So, short of actually planting a forest, is there something that people could do to support forest health? A lot of our listeners are probably gardeners, and may not be a forest manager. But is there something that a garden could do potentially to support forest health, support the forest bees.

Kass: Yeah, absolutely. You know, at the backyard scale, you can add trees and shrubs to your plantings.

Kass: Think about the forested edges or the street trees where, you know, I've always lived in rural places, but I live in Philadelphia right now and I see bees on the street trees all the time and that's really cool and I know that those are creating that complementary resource to all of the herbaceous wild flowers that I'm growing on my patio and that are at the community garden down the street. The street trees are doing a huge amount of work before all those other flowers start blooming, right?

Kass: So, thinking about that at any scale you're at, and I would be remiss not to mention how many butterflies and moths rely on trees and shrubs for their larval hosts and many of them are extremely camouflaged at this stage, but if you want to see those beautiful adult butterflies on the flowers later in the season you have to give their larvae somewhere to grow up. And so that's where trees and shrubs are incredibly important.

Kass: At a larger scale though, even if you're in an urban area, a suburban area, a really densely settled place, there are often forest parks, pocket parks, a riparian buffer to protect.

Kass: There are often really vibrant, sometimes heated community discussions about how to manage a beloved forest park that people really care about, and I think thinking about that as you go into those areas, what the historical disturbance was, what are the historical deer levels relative to the current deer levels? There's a lot of places where that gets really heated and complicated.

Kass: But I find that, often when I go out into a forest. In a place where deer are over 10 to 50 times higher density than they were pre-colonially there are no spring ephemerals and no future canopy trees because most all of them have been eaten by excessive deer browse.

Kass: They are a native species that are wonderful. They're actually a conservation success story. They were brought back from the brink, but now we're at the total other end of the spectrum because of being out of balance and so it's not anti-deer but it's anti of being out of balance.

Kass: So, we really need to think about the long-term violence that that's doing to these systems. By not thinking about what the right ratios are to keep those, we're losing so many spring ephemerals and so many future canopy trees by worrying about that type of management. So, get involved in the conversations happening near you.

Kass: If you have access to any land that you manage or own. Working with an ecological forester is a really wonderful way to think about future health. So there. Tree harvesting is often thought of as a boogie man and there is absolutely exploitative timber harvesting that is not thinking about long-term forest health.

Kass: And that can be very dangerous and can degrade the health of our woods further. But there are many brilliant and ecologically focused forest managers who are thinking with every cut in every harvest in every policy about this historical type of disturbance and degradation of our forest health that I'm mentioning, things like fire suppression, things like these even-aged forests that historically don't make sense because they all regrew at the same time.

Kass: So how do we restore age class diversity? How do we think about composition and competition between species?

Kass: Looking forward under stressful climate change conditions. And they can help you make a plan that is about long-term forest health that is about the age of the forest in 100 years, which trees will be in the canopy because without help you may have some diseased trees or you may have invasive species or you may have a ratio of age classes that isn't going to make sense for climate resilience. Or for resistance to pest pressure or to having any diversity of different age classes without intervention because of those historical pressures that I mentioned and that will absolutely affect the pollinators who are able to live in those woods.

Kass: So, you want to talk to your local extension, you want to talk to your local NRCS, you want to talk to your local university, your local forest service, your state foresters and say, hey, do you have folks who care about this multifunctional long-term forest health.

Kass: Do you have a list of foresters who care about this broader holistic vision? I want to be thinking about making sure that my forest is healthy in the long term. And that will not be, you know, an exploitative quick buck, take out the best trees, make money kind of forestry. That's systems thinking and there's a lot of really smart people doing that and that's actually a way to help all these forest associated bees.

Rachel: Thank you. Kass. I have to give a shout out to my father-in-law. He is a forester in Pennsylvania and he dedicated his whole life to looking at how forestry can impact wildlife and doing exactly what you just said.

Kass: Oh, thanks to him. So yeah, lots of brilliant people out there.

Rachel: Yeah, sorry, I just caught you say pocket park and I've never heard that before. What is a pocket park? It just sounds really cute.

Kass: You know, I might have kind of a hybridized a couple terms there, but I feel like we have I think of these small little forests, and then people develop little pocket parks and then there's a lot of community forestry work, you know, happening, thinking about agri-forestry type relationships, adding in fruit trees and maybe some canopy or shade trees for good gathering places as well as invertebrate habitat into community spaces. They provide shade, Urban cooling.

Kass: So, I think I just maybe put all those words together because they're all such beautiful things. And I should say food forests and agri-forestry systems, you know, depending on what scale our listeners are listening at, right?

Kass: Those are all really fantastic ways to incorporate trees and shrubs into areas where don't do it if your area wasn't historically forested. I'm not saying plant a tree if you live in the prairie, right? That's a totally different thing.

Kass: But if you're in a place where trees make sense, you don't think about how you can incorporate them into your landscape.

Matthew: Yeah, I would say the pocket park is a term that I heard used for a long time. And it may just be regional use. I mean, certainly it was used in Britain. Like last century when I was living there and working in towns. But yeah, of course, pocket park is just a small park in the community.

Kass: You can put it in your pocket. Yeah.

Rachel: No, I love it. And we talk all the time about how even just one flower in a pot on your front porch can make a difference.

Kass: Absolutely.

Rachel: And I think we think about forests that they need to be huge and like a national forest. It's like, no, you could have a pocket forest. The pocket park and it would still have just such a great impact. Other invertebrates and mammals as well.

Kass: Absolutely.

Rachel: So, we're going to end here. This has been an awesome conversation. I've learned so much. In the last few minutes we have here, my favorite question, what inspired you to study forests through the lens of bees?

Kass: So fun talking with you all. There's just so many different ways to think about this. It's such a blast.

Kass: It was absolutely getting to meet, you know, forest ecologists. I started my journey and bees as a 4H dairy goat kid caring about food systems from a totally different angle, stumbled into honey bees, stumbled into wild bees, ended up trying to study wild bees, and I happen to be at a forest station and then all of a sudden, I was like, wait a minute, this is where it's at.

Kass: So, and I mean, I've always loved the woods, but I just think trees are so incredible and I like to say every blooming tree is a temporary meadow in the sky. So, leave it there and bring a new appreciation to those trees and shrubs in your pollinator plantings.

Rachel: That's such a beautiful image. Well, thank you so much, Kass, for joining us and talking about this very interesting topic. Maybe we'll have you back again. I feel like I could ask you a lot more questions.

Rachel: Thank you for joining us and thank you to our listeners.

Kass: It's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.

Matthew: Bug Banter is brought to you by the Xerces Society, a donor supported non-profit that works to protect insects and other invertebrates – the life that sustains us.  If you’re already a donor, thank you so much. If you want to support our work go to For information about this podcast and show notes go to