This post is contributed by Tony Shaw, a Master Gardener who is a member of the Pennsylvania Bee Monitoring Project.
Early in Summer 2021, the Master Gardener Leadership Team invited Master Gardeners across the Commonwealth to participate in a new partnership with PSU professor Dr. Margarita López-Uribe. Her lab spearheads pollinator and bee research at Penn State University.
Quoting the MG Leadership Team’s invitation, partnering with the Master Gardener program “ . . . provides a unique opportunity to advance our knowledge of the status of wild bee populations in Pennsylvania . . . The proposed project capitalizes the interest of Master Gardeners in pollinators . . . while providing an educational opportunity for them [Master Gardeners].”
I was fortunate to be selected as one of the first ten Master Gardeners scattered across the Commonwealth to participate in this pilot project. We began this Summer viewing several video presentations followed by a training workshop day at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center near State College.
We were trained there in bee trapping, collection methods and how to process the resulting bee specimens. We concluded with labeling and pinning the bees per entomological archiving standards. We will send the pinned collections to PSU’s bee taxonomists this Fall for identification, whereupon they will be stored in the Frost Museum.
I am finding my participation to be an extremely enjoyable and rewarding experience. To date, I have completed five survey collection efforts; one of which was at our PSU Extension Office pollinator garden late this September.
The accompanying photos shows two of the methods we used – the “blue-vane jar” and “cup” traps. The arrows on the blue vane photo point to two of the nine cups we place on the ground. Each method uses a mild dish soap solution to capture the bees.
The nine cup photo shows that many other small invertebrates find their way into the traps. We leave these traps exposed for at least 24 hours. The last method we use is a simple bug net to chase down targeted hymenopterans like the stereotypical nerdy entomologist you see in Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons.
We record site location data, then return home to process the samples and pin the captured bees. Be assured that we are not indiscriminately amassing a bunch of dead insects. As you can see from the cup photo, a lot more than just bees get collected (“by- catch”).
When we sort these blue-vane and cup samples, we retain and preserve all the non- hymenopteran insects and other invertebrates. The resulting by-catch samples will then be made available to other PSU research projects not focused on bees.
During the first year of this pilot project, the field survey portion was launched at the beginning of August with August-September survey objectives. Since bee populations are seasonally variable, bees we would see in the spring are not necessarily the same taxonomic groups we will see in the Fall.
Once we enthusiastically “got into it,” the Lab asked us to continue sampling into the Fall as we are able – as long as the weather holds out. In this way, we will be adding mountains of bee distribution data during a time of year that has historically been overlooked.
The “buzz” is that, building on the successes of this pilot first year, the Lopez-Uribe Lab hopes to recruit additional Master Gardeners to train for next year’s survey efforts. I am looking forward to begin bee surveying next Spring.
Contributed post by Tony Shaw