Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens are a globally threatened, fire-dependent habitat that harbor numerous declining, rare, or imperiled plant and animal species. Threats to barrens include development, fragmentation, and fire exclusion which have reduced the extent of barrens communities to 10% of their original extent in western Massachusetts. Pitch pine-scrub oak (PPSO) forests are a significant contributor to the biodiversity of the Northeast.
The Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area (MPWMA) in central Massachusetts is one of the largest and least fragmented inland pitch pine-scrub oak barrens in the Northeast; it hosts 22 declining, rare, or imperiled plants and animals and one rare natural plant community. PPSO barrens require active management to maintain their distinctive ecological characteristics as well as to control fuels accumulation that can threaten human habitation in the wildland urban interface. PPSO communities are critically affected by the timing, frequency, severity and intensity of disturbance, and alteration of these factors can critically affect the distinctive ecological characteristics of this community. Historically, fire was the disturbance factor that maintained the habitat type. However, more recently a program of fuels reduction has been initiated aimed a reducing fuel loads and fire risk to the nearby community of Lake Pleasant.
Despite the importance of reducing fire risk and conserving biodiversity in pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, to date there is no reliable, systematically collected information on the effects of these fuels reduction and habitat restoration practices on invertebrate biodiversity. In this study, we will address this need by scientifically evaluating the effects of habitat restoration and fuels reduction with prescribed fire and mechanical treatments on native bees in pitch pine-scrub oak barrens. Native bees are an important and little known component of biodiversity in this globally threatened plant community. The importance of native bees has received attention recently as the result of declines reported in honeybees. Honeybees are responsible for pollination of nearly two-thirds of the world's crop species, and the potential economic costs of honeybee declines is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is anticipated that the importance of native bees for pollinating crops will increase in importance as honeybees decline.