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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More