Masters Theses

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Laura A. Russo

Committee Members

Mona Papeş, Virginia R. Sykes


Tennessee, home to the Great Smoky Mountains, is a biodiversity hotspot for many plant and animal species, yet it receives relatively few conservation dollars (Jenkins et al., 2015). As a biodiversity hotspot, this region may be home to many endemic species, but little is known about the abundance or diversity of insect pollinators. In order to both estimate pollinator communities in East Tennessee and pollinator forage preferences for native Tennessee plants, we established four plots, comprised of three plant families across five common land use types. Over two field seasons we collected nearly 7,300 insect specimens with a total sampling effort of 101.3 hours. A large majority of the specimens we collected were wild bees, over 4,500 individuals from 99 species. We found the highest abundances and species richness in our agriculture study sites, which offers substantial support to the incorporation of native perennial plantings in agricultural systems. We found the Organic Agriculture block to have the greatest bee species abundance, bee species richness. The plant species with the highest visitation rate was Pycnanthemum muticum. The treatment with the highest visitation rate was our Mixed treatment, comprised of representatives from each plant family. In other words, the most diverse plots, at the family level, were the most attractive to pollinators. We were also able to characterize the pollinator community in the region, thus providing species level data for bees found across three eastern Tennessee counties.

We expanded our findings to explore potential landscape level effects on pollinator communities. Through landscape analysis, we did not find any relationships between species richness or abundance and land cover classification. However, these findings may be largely due to the relative heterogeneity found at each of the study sites. Ultimately, as the first study in East Tennessee to document pollinator forage preferences for native perennial plantings across multiple land use types, we found strong support for the integration of native perennial plantings to support pollinator conservation across the region.

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