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Figure 1: Congaree National Park Entrance (Image Credit David MacFawn )

In March, 2018 David MacFawn, Fleming Mattox and Dave Schuetrum began an effort to explore wild bees in Congaree National Park (CONG, https://www.nps.gov/cong), which is just southeast of Columbia, South Carolina (Figure 1). We are interested determining the size and health of the feral honey bee population there. Various staff and visitors have reported a few others over the years, and we recently found one wild “bee tree” in the park, which was located quite far from any trail. Much of the park is a vast wilderness area, however, and researchers have not systematically searched for bees before. The first phase of our project, (hopefully with follow-on studies), to determine if honey bees are surviving in the forest. The second phase is to study how they are dealing pests and diseases (e.g., Seeley, T.D., et.al. 2015; Seely, T. August, 2017; Tarpy, D.R., Delaney, D.A., Seeley, T.D. 2015).

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Figure 2: Number Hives in The United States http://ento.psu.edu/publications/van-mex-2010 Image Credit: Fleming Mattox)

The bee population in the United States has been declining over the past few decades (Figure 2, vanEngelsdorp and Meixner, 2010). Scientists are studying several possible factors that impact the bee population including habitat, genetics, disease, and pesticides. Bee keepers are actively managing their apiaries to treat for diseases in order to improve survivability. Beekeepers also provide hives for the bees to live in, selectively breed the bees, treat for diseases, and work to keep the bees away from chemicals and pesticides (Graham, J. M., editor. 2015).

Above left: old-growth cypress tree at Congaree National Park (Credit: D. Schuetrum)

Above right: Cypress Swamp in CONG (Credit: D. Schuetrum)

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South Carolina River Basins (NPS/D. Shelley)

According to the park’s Foundation Document (NPS, 2014), which summarizes the park’s key legislation and priorities, the mission of Congaree National Park is to protect, study, and interpret “the resources, history, stories, and wilderness character of the nation’s largest remaining tract of southern old-growth bottomland forest.” The park was preserved as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 after grassroots campaign, and re-designated in 2003 as a national park. The park’s 26,000+ acres include 11,000 acres of old-growth, which bear no ecological or historical evidence of being clearcut (and certainly not in the last several hundred years) as well as >15,000 acres of wilderness area protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964. The wilderness designation is relatively rare in the eastern United States and sets a high priority for keeping the area “untrammeled;” more information on the Wilderness Act and land management is available on the web at https://www.wilderness.net. Furthermore, the park does not apply insecticides in the forest. CONG is also home to the NPS Old-Growth Bottomland Forest Research and Education Center, which works to connect scientists to parks and people with park science.

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Congaree National Park trail map from the park website

Because of its protected status, CONG offers a unique opportunity to study wild bees in a floodplain forest where nature is generally left alone to develop naturally. Studies in other natural areas have documented wild colonies with an average density of 2.5 colonies per square mile (Seeley, T.D., et.al. 2015; Seely, T. August, 2017; Tarpy, D.R., Delaney, D.A., Seeley, T.D. 2015).

CONG has no beekeeper and the bees within the park are left to their own survival. This presents an opportunity to address a number of questions related to human impacts on hives:

1) What is the bee density within the park?

2) What is the bee distribution within the park?

3) Are the bees within the park genetically different from bees outside the park?

4) How are the bees surviving without active management?

5) Are pesticides a problem within the comb of the hive?

6) What is the bee pollen source and is this different from bees outside the park?

The purpose of our study is to begin to answer these questions in a logical and organized manner. The first part is to attempt to determine bee density within the park and to see if there is genetic uniqueness to this species.

Study Design

The first part of the study in 2018 is to capture bees both within the park and in adjacent areas. Bees will be lured using sugar syrup laced with a natural pheromone, anise oil. Approximately 12 captured bees per lure will be sent to the University of Delaware for genetic analysis. Since hives normally have 15,000-60,000 bees, the removal of several dozen bees will have no impact on hive survival.

If phase 1 documents abundant, genetically distinct wild bees in the park, then a second phase of the project will seek to locate the colonies and possibly sample comb for chemical analysis to determine pesticide loads. Colonies will also be monitored to determine health and survivorship.

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Figure 3: Proposed collection sites. In-park sites are in blue, with one known bee tree (as of April, 2018) in red. Sites north of the park are in green, while sites south of the park are in pink. The exact locations will be finalized through on-the ground work and (for non-park sites) landowner contacts through the Mid-State Bee Keepers Association. (NPS/D.Shelley)

Volunteer Opportunities:

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Congaree River along the southern border of the park (NPS Photo/S.McNamara)

The project is currently being funded through the generosity of Mid-State Beekeepers’ Association and the South Carolina State Beekeepers’ Association.

Through local beekeeping associations we are seeking volunteers that may be interested in volunteering to assist with this project. Sampling (Figure 3) will take place over 1-2 weeks in June. The sampling will involve three day trips to the sites, including one day to deploy the lures, one day to check (and hopefully refill) them, and one day to sample. Volunteers do not have to commit to all three sampling days. Some sites are more remote than others, and volunteers should have a range of options in terms of physical challenge and difficulty.

Trail Descriptions (link):

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Cedar Creek at Congaree National Park (NPS/T.Thom)

Boardwalk (2.4 Miles) – The boardwalk begins on a bluff at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center with an elevated section that leads down into the old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. A variety of different tree species can be observed including bald cypress and tupelo trees in the lowest elevations. Loblolly pines, oaks, holly trees and maples can also be observed. The boardwalk has benches along the way and is wheelchair and stroller accessible.

Bluff Trail #1 (1.7 Miles) – This upland trail loops north of the visitor center and connects to the elevated boardwalk for a short distance. The Bluff Trail passes through a young forest of loblolly and longleaf pines. Evidence of prescribed fires can be found along the Bluff Trail.

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Take a boardwalk stroll through a cypress tupelo forest at Congaree National Park (NPS/jt-fineart.com)

Sims Trail #2 (3 Miles) – The Sims trail, an old gravel road, runs from the Bluff Trail on its northern end to Cedar Creek on its southern end, crossing the boardwalk twice. The clearing at the intersection with the Weston Lake Loop Trail was once the site of a hunt club where Harry Hampton was a member.

Weston Lake Loop Trail #3 (4.4 Miles) – This loop provides great views of Cedar Creek where otters and wading birds may be observed. The eastern portion of the trail follows a cypress-tupelo slough (dried-up river bed) where many cypress knees can be seen sticking out of water.

Oakridge Trail #4 (6.6 Miles) – Passing through a rich stretch of old-growth forest, the Oakridge Trail traverses a subtle ridge where a variety of large oaks grow. The number of low-lying sloughs (dried-up river beds) makes this trail great for viewing wildlife.

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Trail marker at Congaree National Park (NPS/jt-fineart.com)

River Trail #5 (10.0 Miles) – This trail leads to the Congaree River, the lifeblood of the park’s great natural diversity. Approximately ten times a year, the river overflows its banks and pulses water throughout the bottomland forest. When the river is low, a large sandbar may be visible. Much of the forest along the river was logged prior to the park’s establishment and vegetation here is notably denser than that of other trails.

Kingsnake Trail #6 (11.7 Miles) – The Kingsnake trail, which is not a loop, is a favorite trail for birders because of the diverse vegetation and proximity to Cedar Creek. When the sloughs (dried-up river beds) are full of water, beautiful views are around every bend.

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Springtime at Congaree National Park finds butterweed blooming under cypress trees (Credit: D. Schuetrum)

Bates Ferry Trail #7 (2 miles) – Starting from Route 601, this trail follows a 1920’s ferry road south to the Congaree. It is a remnant of the area’s rich history, which includes colonial-era ferries that once crossed near here. While at the river, please be aware that the bank is steep and could potentially be slippery. It is best to stay on the marked path, as old side trails are unmarked and not maintained.

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Volunteers measure an old-growth sweetgum at Congaree National Park (Credit: D. Schuetrum)

Longleaf Trail #8 (.6 miles) – This trail branches off the Bluff trail, providing access to the Longleaf Campground.

Personnel

• David E. MacFawn, Master Craftsman Beekeeper and lead: dmacfawn@aol.com, 803-629-8076 (c)

• Bill Couch, Couchws@gmail.com

• Marc Johnson, dovedog99@gmail.com

• Dr. Fleming Mattox, halidon15@yahoo.com

• Dave Schuetrum, d14ds0604@att.net

• Dr. David C. Shelley, Congaree National Park, david_shelley@nps.gov

• Dr. Deborah Delaney, University of Delaware, dadelane@udel.edu

References:

Graham, J. M., editor. 2015. The Hive and the Honey Bee: A New Book on Beekeeping which Continues the Tradition of Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee. Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, IL. 1057 pages ISBN 978-0-915698-16-5.

NPS, 2014. Foundation Document: Congaree National Park, South Carolina. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., 76 pp. Accessed May 7, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/cong/learn/management/upload/CONG_FD_SP.pdf.

Seeley, T.D., Tarpy, D.R., Griffin, S.R., Carcione, A., Delaney, D.A. 2015. A survivor population of wild colonies of European honeybees in the northeastern United States: investigating its genetic structure. Apidologie (Springer Verlag) v. 46, no. 5, p. 654-666.

Seely, T. August, 2017. Honey Bee Environment of Evolutionary Adaptness (EEA). Presentation To Eastern Apiculture Society, July/August, 2017 conference, Newark, Delaware.

Tarpy, D.R., Delaney, D.A., Seeley, T.D. 2015. Mating Frequencies of Honey Bee Queens (Apis mellifera L.) in a Population of Feral Colonies in the Northeastern United States. PLoS ONE, v. 10, no. 3, 12 pp. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118734, accessed May 7, 2018 from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118734.

vanEngelsdorp, D., Meixner, M.D. 2010. A historical review of managed honey bee populations in Europe and the United States and the factors that may affect them. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, v. 103, p. S80-S85, doi: 10.1016/j.jip.2009.06.011, accessed May 15, 2018 from http://ento.psu.edu/publications/van-mex-2010.