Land use in the Northern Great Plains region of the U.S. influences the survival and productivity of honey bee colonies

Matthew D. Smart, Jeff S. Pettis, Ned Euliss, Marla Spivak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The Northern Great Plains region of the US annually hosts a large portion of commercially managed U.S. honey bee colonies each summer. Changing land use patterns over the last several decades have contributed to declines in the availability of bee forage across the region, and the future sustainability of the region to support honey bee colonies is unclear. We examined the influence of varying land use on the survivorship and productivity of honey bee colonies located in six apiaries within the Northern Great Plains state of North Dakota, an area of intensive agriculture and high density of beekeeping operations. Land use surrounding the apiaries was quantified over three years, 2010-2012, and survival and productivity of honey bee colonies were determined in response to the amount of bee forage land within a 3.2-km radius of each apiary. The area of uncultivated forage land (including pasture, USDA conservation program fields, fallow land, flowering woody plants, grassland, hay land, and roadside ditches) exerted a positive impact on annual apiary survival and honey production. Taxonomic diversity of bee-collected pollen and pesticide residues contained therein varied seasonally among apiaries, but overall were not correlated to large-scale land use patterns or survival and honey production. The predominant flowering plants utilized by honey bee colonies for pollen were volunteer species present in unmanaged (for honey bees), and often ephemeral, lands; thus placing honey bee colonies in a precarious situation for acquiring forage and nutrients over the entire growing season. We discuss the implications for land management, conservation, and beekeeper site selection in the Northern Great Plains to adequately support honey bee colonies and insure long term security for pollinator-dependent crops across the entire country.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-149
Number of pages11
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
StatePublished - Aug 16 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the collaborating beekeeper Zac Browning, USDA technician Nathan Rice, and USGS technicians Jordan Neau and Cali Roth. We would also like to thank Margaret McDermott for assistance with pollen identification. This project was funded by grants from USDA-NIFA and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Agriculture
  • Apis mellifera
  • Colony survival
  • Honey bee
  • Honey production
  • Land use
  • Pesticide exposure
  • Pollen collection


Dive into the research topics of 'Land use in the Northern Great Plains region of the U.S. influences the survival and productivity of honey bee colonies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this