Environmental group Friends of the Earth is looking for volunteers to help with its annual bumble bee count, aimed at raising awareness about declining bee populations in Canada and around the world. At the same time, scientists are learning more about how factors such as climate change and pesticide exposure are harming the bees.
The Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count runs August 1 to September 15 and asks citizen scientists to snap pics of bumble bees and upload them so that scientists can use the data to better track the bees.
“Canada has over 40 species of bumble bees but many of them are in trouble,” says John Bennett, Senior Policy Advisor with Friends of the Earth, in a press release. “Photos and observations could signal changes in how bumble bees are dealing with the same issues you and I face – from heat waves to fires and floods.”
The group is hoping to beat last year’s tally of 1,218 bumble bee sightings, which included 12 submissions concerning the critically-at-risk Yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola). And while last year’s input was mostly from urban settings, the group is encouraging volunteers to supplement that with more snaps from locations like National Parks.
“We think it’s a priority that Canadians learn more about these bees,” says Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada. “We want Canadians to be just as familiar with Yellow-banded bumble bees and more of the 40+ bumble bee species as they are with Monarch butterflies.”
Those interested in participating can find out more information and download a Bumble Bee Census Card here.
Canada has over 850 confirmed species of wild native bees, six of which have been designated as critically at risk.
Declines in bee populations, including the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, have been a concern not just for environmentalists and nature-lovers but stand as an issue for agriculture and food security worldwide, as bees are important pollinators for human food crops.
Scientists attribute the problem to a number of factors, including changes in ecology and weather patterns, parasites and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. A new pan-European study conducted in the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary, the first of its kind, has found that exposure to crops treated with neonicotinoids (used to kill pests such as the cabbage stem flea beetle) reduced the overwintering success of honeybee colonies, known to be a key measure of year-to-year viability for bee populations.
But the study also revealed a deeper complexity to the issue, as bee colonies in both the UK and Hungary showed declines, whereas those in Germany did not, indicating that other factors may come into play, such as the size of the hive and access to a wide range of wild flowers, both of which may serve to counteract the potential effects of the pesticides.
Another bee study in Germany found that the timing of bee hatches is crucial to their survival, especially in the spring. If bees emerge from hibernation too early, as might occur due to temporal changes brought about by global warming, there is a risk that no plant will be available for the bees to feed upon.