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5 Ways Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Bumble Bee Recovery & Conservation Initiatives Benefit from Bumble Bee Watch

By Genevieve Rowe on 2 May 2019

We at Wildlife Preservation Canada want to thank each and every one of the community scientists that contribute valuable data to Bumble Bee Watch, and the expert verifiers across North America who have spent countless hours identifying submissions.

Wildlife Preservation Canada’s efforts to conserve native bumble bees would be nothing without help from our volunteer community scientists across the country, and without Bumble Bee Watch. It’s no secret that, as researchers, our time and resources are limited, and these limitations regularly impede research and conservation programs for species at risk across Canada. Since its launch in 2014, and thanks to its growing popularity each year, Bumble Bee Watch has generated an enormous dataset devoted to cataloging North America’s bumble bee fauna, and the information it contains has enabled us to tackle important questions in bumble bee ecology.

Here are the five top ways that the Bumble Bee Watch dataset has contributed to Wildlife Preservation Canada’s ongoing bumble bee research and conservation initiatives.

 

A fuzzy bumble bee with black and yellow stripes collects pollen from a pinkish blossom, in a landscape tinged red by changing leaves.
Yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola) on a blueberry bush. (Photo: Robyn McCallum)

 

1. We Have A Lot More Species-Specific Records at Our Disposal.

The number of verified submissions on Bumble Bee Watch grows steadily from year to year, and by filling in gaps in survey coverage by researchers, these records are contributing to our ability to make informed decisions about how bumble bee populations are distributed across time and space—in specific landscapes and habitats, throughout an entire province, and across Canada as a whole. Understanding how bumble bee populations are distributed every year is the first step in determining how species are interacting with one another across their ranges, and in recognizing when and where populations might be declining.

 

 

 

2. We Have Locality Records to Help Guide Our Searches for At-Risk Species.

Bumble Bee Watch has a proven ability to help locate rare species, and community science observations uploaded to the platform frequently guide our survey locations for yellow-banded bumble bee queens, to use in Wildlife Preservation Canada’s innovative conservation breeding program. Without these additional records from Bumble Bee Watch, determining where species have historically ranged would be much more difficult, and our capacity to identify gaps in survey coverage would be hindered. Bumble Bee Watch’s records continue to help our field technicians determine which new areas to explore next.

 

A chart shows totals of sightings for each Canadian province, and for Canada as a whole. For Canada as a whole, there were 8,999 submissions and 33 distinct species sighted.
Fig. 1 Verified submissions to Bumble Bee Watch in Canada

 

3. We Have Been Able to Increase Community Engagement in Pollinator Conservation Programs.

Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Native Pollinator Initiative recognizes the value of engaging communities in pollinator conservation programs, and as such, has been running Bumble Bee Watch community science programs in Ontario since 2015, and in Alberta since 2017.  By harnessing the power of volunteer community scientists across Canada, we have helped support Bumble Bee Watch through the development and dissemination of structured programs that add hundreds of submissions to the platform every year. By introducing it to new audiences in new areas, we have been able to further expand our survey coverage through volunteer efforts. Thanks to Bumble Bee Watch, we have a way of keeping our volunteers involved even when they aren’t out surveying for bees, and we have a means to share the important records they submit with researchers and conservation practitioners across North America.

 

A kid with an orange reflective vest with a large green patch on the back that says Volunteer - Wildlife Preservation Canada swings a net to catch a bumble bee in a grassy area surrounded by trees.
A young community scientist participating in our Bumble Bee Watch survey program at Awenda Provincial Park. (Photo: Tiffani Harrison)

 

4. We Have Been Able to Access More Information in Target Priority Areas.

Community engagement is an important component in supporting pollinator conservation long-term, and also projects like our Bumble Bee Watch’s community science programs provide the opportunity to collect season-long bumble bee records in priority areas. Thanks to the Bumble Bee Watch platform, we have an easy-to-use tool where these records can be submitted and shared. Our first such program was delivered at Pinery Provincial Park in Grand Bend Ontario, a priority area because it is the last known location of the endangered gypsy cuckoo bumble bee in Ontario, and the last known location for the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee in Canada. In the four years that the program has run, 904 bumble bee observations have been submitted and verified from within the Park. Volunteer surveys continue to allow us to capture the distribution and composition of the Park’s bumble bee fauna throughout the season, and the Bumble Bee Watch platform continues to enable us to explore these records in search of remnant populations of species at risk.

 

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Rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), endangered in both Canada and the United States. (Photo: Nature Watch)

 

5. We Have Been Able to Refocus Research Funds towards Things Other Than Population Monitoring.

What do all these Bumble Bee Watch records mean in terms of personnel resources? If we use WPC’s 2018 field season as an example, here’s what they can really mean to us at a fundamental level—funding our research.

In 2018, we employed a total of eight field technicians for population monitoring and surveys across Ontario (spring only), and in just over 550 survey hours these eight surveyors recorded 4,588 bumble bees. This means that an average of 8.2 bees were recorded per hour of survey time.

If we use this average number of bumble bee records per hour of survey time to calculate a value for the “workforce” associated with the records on Bumble Bee Watch, the results are really eye-opening. The 8,046 records community scientists have now submitted to Bumble Bee Watch for Ontario might represent nearly 1000 field technician survey hours!

Converting those survey hours into a dollar amount really highlights the value of Bumble Bee Watch for non-profit conservation organizations, such as Wildlife Preservation Canada, that are devoted to saving species at risk. We would be looking at spending almost $14,000 in wages to collect those Ontario records alone, or over $60,000 to collect the 36,070 records that currently make up the Bumble Bee Watch database—and that’s merely at the Canadian $14 minimum wage!  

We at Wildlife Preservation Canada want to thank each and every one of the community scientists that contribute valuable data to Bumble Bee Watch, and the expert verifiers across North America that spend countless hours verifying these submissions. We are so grateful to have a tool like Bumble Bee Watch to help us spread the word on pollinator conservation to communities across the country, and to help support our research objectives and the development of conservation strategies for species at risk.

 

A fuzzy bumble bee perches atop a yellow flower.
Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus bohemicus), an endangered species in Canada. (Photo: Sheila Colla)

 

Further Reading

Learn more about Wildlife Preservation Canada’s work to conserve native bumble bees.

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s community science program Bumble Bee Watch—and sign up to participate!

More information on the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Conservation Program.

 

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