Honey bees

Bees move around comb of pollen at one of the hives in Allentown. Pollinator populations in Pennsylvania are experiencing several challenges, with beekeepers reporting upwards of 40-50% losses of their colonies.

HARRISBURG (TNS) — As a gauge against the ongoing decline of bee populations, the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners are helping to create Pennsylvania’s first long-term bee-monitoring program.

The gardeners across the state are working with Margarita Lopez-Uribe, assistant professor of entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, to increase the baseline knowledge of bee diversity in the state and to help identify changes in bee communities.

She said the data collected by the Master Gardeners will help expand knowledge about the status of bee populations in Pennsylvania, allowing researchers to develop recommendations for protecting them if needed.

Several states around the country have ongoing bee-monitoring programs, but coordinating a monitoring program can be difficult, Lopez-Uribe noted.

“You have to manage large groups of people who are geographically apart, and participants also need to have the time and some level of expertise to participate in this type of project,” she explained. “For this reason, we developed the program for Master Gardeners.”

Valerie Sesler, a Master Gardener coordinator, said the group jumped at the chance to participate.

A pilot workshop drew 10 Master Gardeners from across the state, specifically in areas lacking information on bee populations.

“This project fits so well with the mission of the Master Gardener program,” Sesler said. “It provides education about bee diversity to volunteers who can use that education to help others understand the importance of environmental stewardship, specifically about native bee species.”

Lopez-Uribe and members of her team, including Nash Turley, postdoctoral scholar, trained the Master Gardeners in bee collection methods, curation and identification.

Other goals for the program included collecting standardized data on the abundance and diversity of bees across the state and providing longitudinal data to identify changes in bee species distribution, diversity and abundance.

Additional advanced training was offered in a series of videos and hands-on field and lab days.

Turley said the project is important to the study of natural history in the state, noting, “We are working to answer one of the most fundamental questions in biology: what species live where and when?

“Knowing what species are present in a particular location at a particular time is the foundation to ecology and biodiversity studies, but it’s also something we know shockingly little about. Very few biologists collect these types of data on a large scale.”

Turley added that there is little to no data on which bees live in which counties in Pennsylvania, something the Master Gardener collections will help to change.

“Natural history data are timeless, and the collections could be used in future studies to understand how bees are impacted by human land use or climate change,” he said.


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