Concerns about pollinator declines have grown in recent years. However, the ability to detect changes in pollinator communities is often hampered by the lack of detailed data collected across space and time. Citizen Science, the involvement of volunteers in research, has been increasingly used to gather ecological data over large temporal and spatial scales.
In 2015, we established a citizen science program that connects community members in an information-sharing network, known as CSI: Bees (Citizen Science Initiative for Bees). The premise of CSI Bees is to encourage wild bee conservation through short courses and collaborative bee monitoring. Importantly, our citizen science program is based on field-tested methods and data collected by the Northwest Pollinator Initiative team.
CSI Bees was founded in the Seattle area and is steadily being promoted throughout Washington State to attract citizen scientists interested in wild bee conservation. We continue to work with a network of local and regional conversation minded groups to promote involvement, share observations, and visualize how native pollinator communities vary across a broad geographic area.
Currently we have organized two Citizen Science projects: the WildBeeSense Biodiversity Project and the Pollinator Post Project.
WildBeeSense Biodiversity Project
Wild bee monitoring is the most essential aspect of any conservation program. Without monitoring, researchers and the general public cannot quantify the health of bee communities. To address the need for long-term monitoring of bees in western Washington, the Northwest Pollinator Initiative launched the WildBeeSense Biodiversity Project which seeks to investigate wild bee declines through bee monitoring in the urban gardens of Seattle.
Across Seattle, there are greater than 70 urban gardens run by the Department of Neighborhoods, and dozens more are interspersed throughout the city. This system of gardens acts as an oasis for wild bees and is the natural laboratory for our citizen science programs. Thus far we have identified approximately 20 genera of bees in these urban gardens, but we have a limited understanding of the long-term health of these communities.
The focus of the WildBeeSense Biodiversity Project is to deliver fun and easy identification protocols that allow citizen scientists to collect meaningful observations in tandem to our project team. Course participants receive a free guide on how to identify and observe wild bees, hands-on instruction in pollinator identification and monitoring, and the skills necessary to join a growing network of bee observers that seek to conserve and restore bees in Washington State.
Pollinator Post Project
Habitat is an essential component of wild bee conservation. Approximately thirty percent of all bee species nest in above-ground cavities created by wood boring insects. These habitats, among others, are likely threatened by urbanization. The Pollinator Post Project explores the habitat needs of cavity nesting bees in urban areas through citizen science!
Similar to the WildBeeSense Biodiversity Project, citizen scientists use urban gardens as the natural laboratory for the Pollinator Post Project. Participants in this program attend a class where they receive formal instruction by Elias Bloom, a WSU pollinator entomologist, on the life history of cavity nesting bees, a guide on how to observe these fascinating insects, and “bee mailboxes” to take home and monitor.
Throughout the summer season, citizen scientists monitor cavity nesting bees as the bees construct and provision their nests with pollen for the next generation. Citizen scientists mail samples of the cavity nests to WSU at the end of the season for further analysis and bee identification.
This course is the second edition of our citizen science classes which seek to connect, empower, and inform all people through science-based community action and bee conservation! Importantly, citizen scientists of the Pollinator Post Project join a growing network of bee observers concerned about pollinator declines.
Polycultures and Pollinators
Recent evidence suggests that on-farm diversification of practices such as inter-cropping and multi-cropping reduce yield gaps between organic and conventional farms. One mechanism to partially explain this result is that low plant diversity reduces wild bee diversity.
Our latest citizen science project, Polycultures and Pollinators, seeks to examine the role that crop diversity plays in wild bee biodiversity, and pollination services, by working with small-scale farmers as citizen scientists. Farmers are invited to help us monitor bees through an annual bout of trapping, and by planting sentinel plants in their fields to measure pollination.
Registration for Polycultures and Pollinators is now closed. We will be posting the results of this project soon.