Saturday, July 30, 2011

Counting on Bees

For the last couple of summers I’ve been participating in the Great Sunflower Project. It doesn’t take much time – only 15 minutes each day I observe (I aim for 2 days a week) – and it allows me to become personally acquainted with the bees in my neighborhood. There are quite a few: fat & fuzzy bumblebees, carpenter bees, metallic green bees, tiny sweat bees, honeybees from my neighbor’s hives (located down the road and around the corner) and more.

Bees, it turns out, are easy to watch. They are so intent on their labors – slurping nectar and gathering pollen to take back to their hives or nests – that they pay no attention to a sunburned gardener tallying sightings on a dog-eared index card. This is good, because one of every three bites I stuff into my mouth comes from plants pollinated by wild bees.

Gretchen LeBuhn, a scientist at San Francisco State University, invites curious naturalists across the nation to help her learn more about the free “ecosystem services” that wild bees provide – free pollinating services worth at least four billion dollars a year. And that’s just in the US.

Scientists have noted pollinator decline in certain wild and agricultural landscapes. But, says LeBuhn, little is known about urban pollinators. Her most recent data suggests that urban bee populations may be on the slide as well.

While the loss of these pollinators is important, LeBuhn says it is more important to understand what effect these losses have had on pollinator services. To do that she and other scientists need to know a lot more about how healthy bee populations survive in cities and suburbs. Her ideas is to have as many people as possible help her count bees.

So far, she’s learned that on average a gardener is likely to see a bee pollinate a flower every 2.6 minutes. This means that if you’re seeing more than 3 bees in 15 minutes your garden is doing better than average.

It’s easy to get involved and you don’t even need a garden – you can count bees on flowers at a park or botanical garden. To learn more go to
If you want to watch a bee at work, check out this video from You-tube:

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