Bee a Citizen Scientist, a local project focused on studying local pollinators, wrapped up last month following three years of work.
The project officially ended with a group survey at McArthur Island Butterfly Garden in July, but participants continued to count pollinating insects in their own gardens until September.
The goal for the project was to generate a list of flowers that could be brought to the City of Kamloops as recommendations to be planted in the city.
“I just thought it would be fun,” said Elaine Sedgman, citizen science co-ordinator for the project. “I didn’t realize how a lot of work it would be.”
The Thompson Shuswap Master Gardeners’ Association organized the project, in collaboration with the biology department at Thompson Rivers University.
“Three years ago, we had our first training with Erin Udal, who was involved with the environmental youth alliance in Vancouver, and she had done citizen science in Vancouver with these kids,” Sedgman said.
She said participants learned to identify pollinators to honeybees, bumblebees, pollen plants bees — which collect the pollen on their back legs and nest in the ground — and hairy belly bees, which are cavity nesters that collect the pollen on their abdomens.
“And then flies, which actually can pollinate up to 30 per cent of a crop,” Sedgman said. “And then wasps, and then ‘other’ was the other category, so beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, if you’re really lucky to see one actually pollinating.”
There were group counts of pollinators done in Riverside Park and in the Butterfly Garden on McArthur Island, but participants also completed counts in their own gardens through the months of June, July, August and September.
During this final year of the project, they attempted a true biodiversity study, collecting insects in blue vane traps to later be identified, a job handled by biodiversity scientist Lincoln Best.
“We have almost 8,000 bumblebee specimens representing 15 species, which I think is pretty surprising,” Best said. “That’s a third of the North American fauna of bumblebees that we found just at low elevation, sagebrush-type sites.”
According to Best, B.C. has the most diverse bumblebee fauna in all of North America, so being able to do a project like this here has provided the researchers with a wealth of new information.
“This kind of well-curated data set provides a lot of information on the critters, but also it establishes a historical baseline,” Best said.
Alongside the main study, Thompson Rivers University student Mae Frank was at work with research on how citizen science compares to a more traditional scientific approach.
“I originally got funding to do a project where I’m looking at citizen science compared to traditional entomological techniques, so using traps,” Frank said. “I’m going through the data right now and it’s really just showing me that there’s biases kind of everywhere, but there’s so many benefits to using citizen science.”
One of the biases she noted was that there were pollinators that were observed by the citizen scientists that were not represented in the traps.
“What Mae’s work does is, it will help us understand the linkage between the data collected with citizen science versus those collected with traps,” said Lyn Baldwin, an associate professor in TRU’s department of biological sciences. “And we know that it will be easier for us to monitor with citizen science. But we know that that data is a particular snapshot on the world.
“They’re complementary, but how are they complementary? I think is a really important thing for us to see.”
Once the samples have all been catalogued, the university will receive a cabinet of them for further study. The Master Gardeners Association will also be given a few trays.
Additional trays of pollinator samples will be provided to the Eureka science program at TRU, the Big Little Science Centre, School District 73 and the Tk’emlups Indian Band.