Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bee Spotter Network and National Pollinator Week focus attention on conserving insects we can’t live without

Bee Spotter Network and National Pollinator Week focus attention on conserving insects we can’t live without

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You may already know that times have been tough for honeybees in the U.S. since the 1980s. That’s when a parasitic mite that devastates honeybee colonies was accidentally introduced here. You may also know that this past year has marked a dramatic turn for the worse, with the onslaught of a phenomenon that has been labeled “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD. CCD has led to steep losses of managed bees in more than 20 states. So far, about 1/4 of all beekeepers in the U.S. have been affected, and, on average, affected operations have lost a staggering 45 percent of their bees.

On top of this, wild pollinators, such as bumblebees, also seem to be in decline. A 2006 report issued by the National Academy of Sciences emphasized that researchers don’t even have enough information about populations of wild pollinators to track whether or how steeply their numbers are dropping.

In combination, the decline of wild pollinators and losses of managed honeybees constitute a potential nightmare, since ecosystems and human food production depend so heavily on bees for pollination.

Scientists are working busily to identify the cause or causes of CCD. But ordinary people can help conserve bees, too. At the very least, we can promote the well being of pollinators in our own back yards by limiting our use of pesticides and favoring native plants in our landscaping.

People who would like to play a more active role can lend a hand to scientists by joining the Bee Spotter Network recently established at the University of Illinois. Bee Spotter is a web-based project designed to engage citizens in the scientific effort to establish baseline information about the numbers of bumblebees and wild honeybees that are out there.

What does it take to be a bee spotter? You don’t need a degree in entomology. To be a spotter, you need only the capacity to photograph bees with a digital camera and upload your pictures to the Bee Spotter website. You need not be able to identify every bee yourself, although the Bee Spotter project provides some excellent tools for making identifications. Most bee spotters simply photograph bees when and where they see them, although the project also includes an option for setting up regular monitoring of a specific place, too.

A workshop on how to participate in Bee Spotter will be offered on next Wednesday evening, June 25th, at the Urbana Free Library. Participants will learn how to navigate the Bee Spotter website and get hands-on training in bumblebee identification.

The Bee Spotter workshop is one of many activities connected to the observance of National Pollinator Week in Champaign-Urbana, which will kick off with an opening ceremony at the University of Illinois Plant Biology Conservatory on Sunday, June 22nd, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. That ceremony will feature a pollinator art exhibit, tours of the conservatory, and information about local pollinator conservation efforts, as well as a welcoming talk by May Berenbaum, head of the U of I Department of Entomology and brilliant, articulate, entertaining advocate for appreciation of insects.

For further details about National Pollinator Week and the Bee Spotter project, follow the links from the UI Department of Entomology website at