Bees are the most important pollinators of flowering plants in natural, agricultural, and urban habitats. The decline of bee populations worldwide has called attention to the need to better understand the diversity, distribution, and abundance of wild bee pollinators.

A recent study1,2 from the López-Uribe lab updated the number of species reported in Pennsylvania to 437, providing the first step to our understanding of the regional bee diversity across the state. However, the status of wild bee populations in Pennsylvania (whether they are stable, declining, or increasing) is currently unknown. Most counties in the state of Pennsylvania have fewer than 50 bees recorded.

The number of bees recorded in each Pennsylvania county. Many counties have few bees on record, not because there are few species living there, but rather, because they have been poorly sampled.

We are currently developing an educational program for Master Gardeners to leverage their knowledge and interest in pollinator natural history and create the first long-term bee monitoring program for the state of Pennsylvania. The goals of the program are to:

(1) train Master Gardeners in bee collection methods, curation, and identification (genus level);

(2) collect standardized data on the abundance and diversity of the bees across the state; and

(3) provide longitudinal data to identify changes in bee species distribution, diversity, and abundance.

The program will offer advanced training to Master Gardeners via a series of webinars and hands-on field and lab days before project participants lead field collections independently (see information below).

Introduction to Bee Monitoring

In the United States, there are growing interests in establishing long-term bee monitoring programs in an effort to track bee populations at a coordinated national scale2. Effective monitoring is necessary to provide robust data to detect species declines, changes in distribution, and the spread of invasive species. 

But, why work on bee monitoring? In this first webinar, you will learn about the ecological roles pollinators play, the evidence for pollinator declines, and the need for bee monitoring programs.

 

This webinar will be available to project participants via Penn State Extension.

 

Bee Collection Methods: Bee Bowls and Blue Vane Traps

The most commonly used methods used for specimen collections for bee monitoring programs are bee bowls and blue vane traps. In the following videos, you will learn how to use both of these techniques to sample bees.

How to set up bee bowls to monitor bees

How to set up blue vane traps to monitor bees

 

Bee Curation Methods: Washing, Pinning, and Labeling

Both bee bowls and blue vane traps use soapy water, so the samples you collect from these traps will be wet. This results in bees with matted hairs making them difficult to identify. To get bees looking good again and ready to be identified by experts, it is necessary to carefully wash and dry them. Here, we explain this step-by-step process.

How to wash and dry bees

Once you have bees that are clean and fluffy they need to be properly pinned and labeled, here we provide a tutorial on these methods.

How to pin bees

 

Bee Identification: Scopes and Taxonomic Keys

Once you have finished the collection and curation steps, you should end up with boxes of pinned bees with proper labels. These specimens are ready to be examined for identification first by you (try to get at the genus level), and then by specialists for identification at the species level. 

To identify bees to genus, you will often have to use a scope to look at morphological characters that are not visible to the bare eye. Here is a video explaining the basics of how to use an insect scope for the taxonomic identification of specimens.

We are currently working on more resources to help you use taxonomic keys. Stay tuned for more information! 

What do we know about bee biodiversity in Pennsylvania?

To learn more about bee diversity in Pennsylvania, check out this website and the webinar below from Penn State Extension.

 

Educational Resources

References

  1. Kilpatrick SK, Gibbs J, Mikulas MM, Spichiger S, Ostiguy N, Biddinger DJ, López-Uribe MM. (2020) An updated checklist of the bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of Pennsylvania, United States of America. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 77:1
  2. Kilpatrick SK, Gibbs J, Mikulas MM, Spichiger S, Ostiguy N, Biddinger DJ, López-Uribe MM. (2021) Corrigenda: An updated checklist of the bees (HymenopteraApoideaAnthophila) of Pennsylvania, United States of America. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 77: 1–86
  3. Woodard SH, Federman S, James RR, Danforth BN, Griswold TL, Inouye D, McFrederick QS, Morandin L, Paul DL, Sellers E, Strange  JP, Vaughan M, Williams NM, Branstetter MG, Burns C, Cane J, Cariveau AB, Cariveau DP, Childers A, Childers C, Cox-Foster DL, Evans EC, Graham KK, Hackett K, Huntzinger KT, Irwin RE, Jha S, Lawson SP, Liang C, López-Uribe MM, Melathopoulos A, Moylett HMC, Otto C, Ponisio LC, Richardson LL, Rose R, Singh R, Wehling W (2020) Toward a U.S. national program for monitoring native bees. Biological Conservation 252: 1088 

 

Questions about this project?

Please contact Nash Turley (nqt5263@psu.edu)