By Eric Rayfield
In July 2015 entitled, researchers are launching an intense bumble bee project called “The Blue Ridge Bumble Bee Megatransect.” I’ll be joining Dr. Jennifer Geib of Appalachian State University, Paul Super of the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center of the National Park Service, and Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey. We hope that the project will provide valuable data for declining bumble bee populations in the southern Appalachians, and we need your help.
Many native bumble bee species have seen sudden drastic declines and are no longer found in areas they were once common. However, there have been few efforts to conduct widespread bumble bee surveys to determine the status of these declining species. To get a definitive idea of the current status of these populations, this project will rely heavily on citizen-scientist volunteers to conduct roadside bumble bee surveys in parts of the most remote and pristine habitat left in the eastern US — the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and various roadsides within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The project will span approximately 600 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Sevierville, Tennessee with survey sites every two miles.
The Blue Ridge Bumble Bee Megatransect project has three main goals:
- Examine the distribution of over a dozen different bumble bee species and locate any refugia where rare species may still be thriving. These remote areas in the southern Appalachian Mountains are relatively free from neonicotinoid pesticides and therefore show the most promise of supporting declining species that have disappeared in agricultural areas.
- Use collected specimens to analyze population genetics of bumble bees in the study area. This analysis can determine key subpopulations and identify how subpopulations may be connected, which can help with maximizing conservation efforts. Genetic data can also provide other valuable information, such as effective population size, worker foraging distance, and inbreeding rates.
- Provide education and awareness of bumble bee conservation to the public through citizen science volunteering. People who personally invest in research have a better understanding and interest in conservation.
Last year, President Obama set forth a strategy to help the conservation of declining bees and other pollinators. This strategy included developing monitoring strategies to better understand the current state of pollinators. Sam Droege at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has been developing an easy roadside bumble bee survey since 2009 and saw this method as a valuable tool to improve bumble bee monitoring. This summer, these protocols will be used in a citizen-science setting for the first time. Roadside surveys are attractive to volunteers because sites are easily accessible and a large number of points can be covered over a large area since travel between sites is quick. Analysis methods for this type of data are already in place from the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
On any clear days in the month of July, volunteers will drive along their section of road and stop at their designated mile markers to perform roadside bumble bee surveys. This involves getting out of the car and catching bees for ten minutes at each site. Equipment such as nets, ethanol, and vials will be supplied and can be picked up at specific visitor centers within the parks. Volunteers will store the captured specimens in ethanol and leave them at drop-off points at visitor centers. The samples will then be transported back to Appalachian State University for sorting, identification, and genetic analysis. With centralized identification, there is no need for skilled entomologists in the field, allowing the general public to be a part of the survey process.
If you would like to volunteer, visit the project’s website to sign up and choose survey sites from the map.
The project will last from July 1-31, 2015, and we are accepting volunteers for this entire period until all sites have been surveyed. The researchers plan on continuing this survey effort next summer and are hopeful that other organizations around the country will adopt this kind of survey technique for studying bees on a widespread scale.
Eric Rayfield is a current graduate student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He is researching how landscape factors affect bumble bee dispersal and gene flow in the southern Appalachians. When he is not doing research, Eric enjoys beekeeping, gardening, and birdwatching.