January 11, 2017
By: Liz Clift
If you regularly read Great Ecology’s blog, it should come as no surprise that I have a soft spot for pollinators (currently with a focus on native bees, which I’m just beginning to learn about). It should also come as no surprise that I’m fond of citizen science, and opportunities for people (including children, educators, and others) to participate in science and field studies.
So, I’ll start with the good (and simultaneously bad) news: Seven species of the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus sp.) were listed as endangered species on Friday, September 30th, 2016. They are the first bees to make the list, and this could have a ripple effect on other bees and insect pollinators, as protections for these bees are implemented.
This is good, because these bees will now have federal protections. It’s bad, because like with all other species that make the list, it means their numbers are critically low—and we are quite dependent on pollinators (no comment on pollinating robots).
If you’re like me, you’d like to make efforts to support bee pollinators. But, perhaps you don’t have a yard or even a patio to plant flowering plants on. Or perhaps you live in the middle of a city with very few flowering things that can act as “bee highways” to help get bees to your location. Or perhaps you have a bit of a black thumb.
There are still things you can do!
Bumble Bee Watch, “is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees.” To participate, you need to have access to a camera (luckily, most of us now carry one around in our pockets all the time), the internet, and some places bumble bees might like to buzz about.
Bumble Bee Watch encourages citizen-scientists to take photos of bumble bees and then upload them onto the Bumble Bee Watch website, where you are asked to try and identify your bumble bee and map where you saw it. An expert later verifies your identification. You have to sign up on the Bumble Bee Watch website to participate—or to browse their gallery—but in exchange, you get to help science by doing something you may already be doing (such as photographing bees or flowers; gardening; or generally being outside with your phone in places where you might see bumble bees).
Your participation helps build a map of bumble bee sightings, and the data can be used to help all of us better understand how bumble bee species shift over time, if their numbers are growing or declining, or if a certain species still exists in a particular area.
Bumble Bee Watch, and the citizen-scientists who participate in this project, helped develop some important records of the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). In late September 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it is proposing to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), due to large declines in 9/10ths of its historic range. This is due, in part, to work done by the Xerces Society. This week, the rusty-patched bumblebee was added to the endangered species list.
The ESA listing may provide major aid to the other 3,600 species of native bees that exist in North America, because of the work that will go into protecting the rusty patched bumble bee from threats of disease, pesticide, and habitat loss. In fact, pesticides and diseases (like Nosema bombi, a fungal parasite) carried by commercial bumble bees are thought to be primary culprits in the decline of the rusty patched bumble bee.
If you want to learn more about the rusty patched bumble bee, you can watch this short video (approximately 20 minutes).
Want other ways to help? The Xerces Society has published guidelines for creating and managing habitat that will attract bumble bees and other pollinators, and Great Ecology is able to help private and public sector clients incorporate pollinator gardens into their projects.
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