News / Science & Technology

Great Bee Count Tracks Dwindling Populations

Rosanne Skirble
An estimated 100,000 volunteers across the continent will join forces this month for the Great Bee Count, which is designed to help scientists better gauge the trends in the wild bee population.
 
About 30 to 40 percent of America’s domestic honey bees - populations managed to produce honey and pollinate many agricultural crops - fall victim each year to farm chemical pollution, habitat loss and diseases. That same lethal combination may also be threatening the survival of as many as 4,000 species of native wild North American bees - important pollinators as well.  

Yvonne Fredlake will be one of those volunteers. Her bee-friendly garden is at its peak; the sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans are in full bloom.  

“They really love those," Fredlake says. "I make sure that I plant plenty of them, for two reasons, one for them and so that they will come in and visit my vegetable patch and help me out a little bit.”

  • Cemolobus ipomoeae  is a morning glory specialist with a tongue so long that, even when folded, it reaches to its abdomen.
  • Dieunomia xerophila often nests in huge groups in sandy soil.
  • Megachile frugalis is an uncommon bee that gathers pollen and carries it under its abdomen rather than on its legs like many other species.
  • Coelioxys coturnix is a nest parasite of other introduced bees in the inner city, laying its eggs in their nests and their young subsequently killing the host's young and eating the provisions of the nest.
  • Anthidiellum notatum is a tiny e Midsummer bee fond plants in sandy, open areas.
  • Habropoda laboriosa is known as the southeasterly blueberry bee this early spring bee looks a lot like a bumblebee but feeds almost exclusively on blueberry and related plant pollen.
  • Agapostemon splendens is attracted to the salt in people’s sweat and can be found in sandy soils and along the coastal dunes of eastern North America.
  • Megachile frugalis is an uncommon bee that gathers pollen and carries it under its abdomen rather than on its legs like many other species.
  • Dianthidium simile nests in the base of clumps of grass in nest cells made of sand mixed with pine resin.
  • Osmia distincta is a spring bee one often found gathering pollen from wild scrubby flowering plants.
  • Perdita latior among the smallest species in North America measures 2 mm in length.
  • Anthophora bomboides is a bumblebee look-alike, but from a completely different family than bumblebees and not forming colonies but nesting in exposed banks of soil.
  • Ceratina strenua is smaller than the size of a grain of rice and nests in the cut tips of plant stems; burrowing into the soft pith.

Clipboard in hand, Fredlake makes notes about bee activity on this mid-summer day in her Gainesville, Virginia, garden.   

“If I plant sun flowers in succession, which is what I try to do, I can usually get a good count every couple of weeks, if I am vigilant, on top of it, and don’t forget to.”

Fredlake regularly counts bees as part of the Great Sunflower Project, the group running the Great Bee Count, a special campaign to sample bee activity across North America on a single day. She will be among thousands of volunteers who will upload data to the project’s website.

Great Bee Count
Great Bee Counti
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


“Every day is a good day because any count you get is a good count," Fredlake says. "And it is important to mark down anything, even if you don’t get any visitors. That’s significant too.”

While the collapse in domestic honeybee colonies is well documented, citizen scientists like Fredlake are central in understanding what’s happening to native bee species.

“I just get excited about how simple is was, that I could sit and watch what I was doing for my entertainment and then provide information for scientists so that they can catalog bees and keep track on what is going on in the United States,” she says.

San Francisco State University biologist Gretchen LeBuhn directs the Great Sun Flower project.

"This effort was started to try to identify what was happening with our bee communities and to identify the areas where we might have some concerns and could do some conservation,” LeBuhn says.

They’ve already learned quite a bit.  The data shows bees in decline in cities where habitat is disrupted by buildings and highways, compared with those living in deserts, forests and woodlands.  It also indicates that urban bee populations are healthier in larger community gardens with more flowers.

"I think [that] is a sign that the diversity of plants and the addition of a whole series of plants across the seasons really does help bees in those areas,"  LeBuhn says. "And our results suggest that in urban areas we need to actually try to increase the number of plants and areas for nesting for some of our bees.”

LeBuhn has issued a renewed call for people to sample their backyards in the Great Bee Count on August 11.  She says the event will give a snapshot of a single day, and also help fill in important local data missing from the national map.

“We have a good spread, but we don’t have the fine-scale data that would let us start to tie pollinator service to some of the lawn practices, the regional practices, the natural areas management practices, so anything we can do to learn more about how to help bees.”

And for volunteers like Yvonne Fredlake, the count will be a way to return the many favors that bees give the world, naturally, every day.  

“I make a difference for the bees that live in my area and that to me is important because this is my home too and they are part of my ecosystem," she says. "They are helping me with my vegetables and they are also helping hundreds of other families around me that have gardens, too.”

While the Great Bee Count will last just one day, Fredlake expects to keep an eye on them all summer.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs