‘BeeBlitz’ projects turn to ‘citizen science’ to help data researchers

‘BeeBlitz’ projects turn to ‘citizen science’ to help data researchers

Dozens of volunteers have spent hours this summer in Forest Park, trying to photograph every bee that passes through homemade 2sq m grids. Known as a “BeeBlitz”, it’s an experiment in citizen science that researchers hope will allow them to collect detailed data on area bee populations.

“The project is important,” said volunteer and aspiring ecologist Abi Gorline, 17, of Sunset Hills, St Louis, the US. She attended a blitz earlier this month despite sweltering conditions. “I really like bees. I like ecology.”

Bees pollinate US$15bil (RM62.9bil) worth of US food crops, contribute to the production of one-third of the human diet, and keep ecosystems across the world alive. But scientists across the US have said that mites, pesticides, disease and food shortages have led to dramatic declines in bee populations in recent years, furthering deep concerns over the future of pollinators, agriculture and nature.

Events like BeeBlitz have popped up across the US in a sometimes-desperate attempt to track bee numbers and better pinpoint reasons for the bee deaths. About 45 people have participated in local BeeBlitzes over the last two months, said one of the organisers, Webster University Biology Professor Nicole Miller-Struttman.

A local resident lays down a 2m x 2m grid during BeeBlitz at Forest Park, St Louis.

Volunteers set up a grid using PVC pipe and string, photograph any bees that enter during a 10-minute period, then upload the results online. Their work helps researchers track bee populations, and is also being used to gauge whether data from so-called “citizen scientists” matches those from trained professionals.

The first goal is to see what species of bees are in Forest Park. The next is to see how that population is changing over time. If the data proves to be comparable, Miller-Struttman said volunteers could do surveys in their backyards, over larger areas or for longer periods of time.

That data then could be used to analyse the effects of pesticides and concrete on bee population in a ZIP code. “There’s been a big push for citizen science,” she said.

Bees

BeeBlitz participants taking photo surveys of bees that will be used to help track bee populations in the Forest Park area of St Louis.

It’s the third year of the surveys, and the first in which they are being conducted throughout the summer. So far, Miller-Struttman said, the data compare well with what she and colleagues obtain by collecting bees with nets.

Thanks to the surveys, researchers have been able to track seasonal changes in bee species, although they don’t know what is causing those fluctuations. Miller-Struttman said they have not seen an overall drop in bee numbers in Forest Park, where there are lots of floral and nesting resources.

In addition to helping out, BeeBlitz volunteers learn about bee biology and ways in which they can support wild bees. – Tribune News Service/St Louis Post-Dispatch/Robert Patrick

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