By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
SEATTLE – City dwellers concerned about recent declines in pollinators can contribute to bee research as citizen scientists. Elias Bloom, a Washington State University doctoral student, is seeking volunteers to collect data on wild, native bees in Seattle in order to promote pollinator health.
He will offer volunteer trainings starting May 7. For more information, visit http://nwpollinators.org.
Farmers rely on native bees
Farmers in western Washington who grow a diverse mix of fruit and vegetable crops rely on native pollinators like bumble bees to boost production. There are more than 4,000 species of bees in the United States. The widely managed, domesticated honey bee is imported.
“Native bees are critical for the sustainability of these farming systems,” said Bloom. “Diversified farms typically achieve significantly higher yields when healthy native bee communities are present.”
The problem is that urbanization can be detrimental for native bee habitat, he said.
By comparing bee communities in urban areas with those that inhabit nearby organic farms, Bloom hopes to better understand how urbanization affects bee conservation in both settings.
“Bee identification and monitoring is the foundation of any type of conservation program,” he said.
Training citizen scientists
Getting baseline information about the types of pollinators that hang out in urban gardens will require more field work than Bloom can manage on his own. So he created Citizen Science Initiative (CSI): Bees to gather data while also engaging urban communities in bee conservation.
The information-sharing network of citizen scientists is part of the WSU Department of Entomology’s Northwest Pollinator Initiative, spearheaded by Bloom to increase pollinator literacy in the Puget Sound region.
When Shoreline, Wash., resident and Master Gardener Randy Eakin heard about the program, he jumped at the chance to participate and told other gardeners about it.
“It answered my need to learn from research-based sources and be a part of doing something positive for my little corner of the world,” he said.
Bee ambassadors build online repository
Volunteers will learn how to identify five basic groups of bees, including how to tell a bee from a wasp and a honey bee from a bumble bee. They will learn tips for taking photos of bees on flowers and uploading the photos to an online Web portal.
“One of the cool things about this project is that none of this information exists for this region right now,” Bloom said. “This is going to be really useful information. We’re helping train ambassadors of bee knowledge.”
Bloom’s project is among an increasing number of citizen science initiatives in the nation created to collect data about pollinators. His research is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, federally funded Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education initiative and the National Science Foundation.
Elias Bloom, WSU Department of Entomology, 402-676-0138, firstname.lastname@example.org