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A group dedicated to protecting the future of bees in this province is taking part in a wide-ranging project to better monitor and record information about our pollinating friends.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association (NLBKA) has joined Bumble Bee Watch (www.bumblebeewatch.org) — a citizen science, interactive, online website and data base.
Developed by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and other partners, it’s a pan-North America collaboration to track and conserve the continent’s bumble bees.
NLBKA president Catherine Dempsey said honey bees and other pollinators share the same flowers and other parts of the provincial ecosystems.
This province has about 80 native bees — 12 of which are bumble bees, she said.
“We know very little about how they are distributed across the province or their numbers,” said Dempsey, who added it’s difficult to get funding from governments or academic bodies to conduct baseline research to inventory native pollinators.
“That’s why this citizen-science project is so important. It allows us to advance our knowledge of at least some of our native bees — bumble bees in particular.”
Bumble Bee Watch allows individuals to upload photos of bumble bees to start a virtual, online bumble bee collection; identify the bumble bees in their photos and have their identifications verified by experts; learn about bumble bees, their ecology, and ongoing conservation efforts; and connect with other citizen scientists.
Local entomologist Barry Hicks has volunteered to be the regional expert to identify citizen-science bumble bee sightings. He is also setting up a network of native bee collection sites across the province with the view to accurate identification and long-term monitoring. Information from this more systematic research will be entered into Bumble Bee Watch.
Dempsey explained that along with honey bees, bumble bees and other native pollinators also pollinate numerous crops, garden flowers, wild flowers and deciduous trees. They’re vital in the production of almonds, alfalfa, apples, blueberries, canola, carrots, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, strawberries, watermelons and many other crops.
Insect pollinators, in addition to birds and bats, affect 35 per cent of the world's crop production, increasing the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, Dempsey said.
However, she added, many such pollinators are in serious decline in North America, Europe and elsewhere, for reasons that are not fully understood. Likely culprits include climate change, habitat loss, the spread of exotic pathogens, and pests and insecticides.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s no baseline data against which to monitor trends in pollinator abundance.
She said Bumble Bee Watch will help build a monitoring data base, help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees and locate rare or endangered populations of them.
“This is especially important as we ‘grow forward’ in the development of agriculture in the province, particularly in sectors where crops are dependent on pollinators,” Dempsey said. “Farmers dependent upon pollination of their crops may benefit from knowing more about the bumble bee populations in their areas.”