Recent apocalyptic "Bees Gone!" headlines should read "Some Bees Are Gone!" since it's domesticated honeybees that are vanishing, not all of our 800 species of bees, according to agro-environmentalist Jim Dyer.
Dyer should know because he created Pollination Canada (PC) to track populations of pollinators -- all of them, not just honeybees -- and your garden can help.
Bees, and bumblebees in particular, are declining in number, as are most plant and animal species in contact with human development and pollution, but bees are not the only pollinators. Butterflies, moths, flies and beetles -- representing more than 1000 wild species -- play vital fertilization roles in exchanging pollen between plants and, therefore, in perpetuating species and producing the fruit, vegetables, flowers and crops we have come to take for granted.
Pollination Canada's Cambridge-Waterloo-Guelph Citizen Science Pilot Project, which has been running since 2004, is in its final phase before being expanded across Canada in 2008. You and your garden, at home or the cottage, are invited to help "get the bugs out" of the tracking system before it goes national. Early adopters of this program will also serve as "seeds of inspiration" to their neighbours. Over fences and along sidewalks, word will spread. If we pay attention to what we have, we may save hundreds of the diverse and delicate habitats and ecosystems that we live in and near.
Pollination Canada (PC) is a joint venture of Seeds of Diversity Canada and Environment Canada's Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network Coordinating Office. EMAN teamed up with Nature Canada for PC's Citizen Science initiative, which is designed to connect interested, but not necessarily skilled, community members across Canada in programs to track and report on ecosystem changes.
By observing pollinators in gardens, local parks, along country roads, basically anywhere flowers are growing, and then sending in your observations, you can help scientists to better understand the importance of pollinating insects so that steps can be taken to protect them. To become a Pollinator Observer, visit pollinationcanada.ca and download the Observer Kit. Successful monitoring depends on observers following the clear, simple instructions and recording observations systematically and consistently so they may be compared with data collected by other volunteers. Soon observations will be entered directly into the PC database. Recording your observations should not detract from your enjoyment of watching bees, butterflies, moths and other insects at work among the flowers.
Dyer knows that not every Canadian will pitch in, but he expects support from those who see the environmental opportunity as well as the impact on urban management, park development and municipal environmental policies.
A Great Summer Project for Families and Gardeners
If you can tell a bee from a butterfly, or would like to learn, you can help. This is a first-stage survey that will be used to identify patterns that should be investigated further by scientists.
This program involves non-destructive sampling and observation rather than precise identification. No samples are taken since that disturbance and destruction would defeat the purpose of nurturing wild populations. Here, amateur observers take a naturalist role and watch the comings and goings of insects in the same patch of green over many weeks. Digital photographs won't help since cell phone cameras lack resolution and macro shots require skill. Citizen Science works because it is quick and easy for volunteers busy with their own lives and interests.
"[Insect] length is important so we teach you how to measure without killing as we do not want damage to the ecosystem," said Dyer, recipient of a 2006 Pollinator Advocate Award from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign [ North American Pollinator Protection Campaign ]. "People tell us about the diversity of bees and insects in the patch they decide to watch. From this, we can build up an index of diversity versus a classification of habitat. These are all things we have been working on with select volunteers in Cambridge and Guelph."
Cities As Pollinator Havens
"We cannot rely on moving honeybee hives around for pollination," said Dyer. "Pollination is a keystone process in the ecosystem for the long-term survival of species and in agri-business. We have destroyed ecosystems and we cannot expect [wild pollinators] to be there when we have crops to pollinate."
Ironically, cities offer the greatest hope to populations of pollinators. Agricultural practices like mono culture and tillage have undermined bee and other pollinator populations in the countryside.
"That is not where bees will be saved, but in the cities they can be," said Dyer. "It looks like the cities have the greatest diversity and the potential to maintain populations. They have the most green space -- lots of parks and borders along tracks and what people consider as weeds. Perfectly mowed lawns are not the be all or end all."
Or did he say "bee all or end all?"