Citizen scientists tracks bee population at Glenbow Ranch

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Organizers were pleased with the outcome of the second year of a program at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park that trains citizen scientists how to spot, photograph and identify bumblebees.

“In terms of participation through the summer, I’d say it was one of our higher years,” said Sarah Johnson, former lead biologist with the Native Pollinator Initiative at Wildlife Preservation Canada. “Usually, we get a couple of really keen volunteers that do the majority of the surveying and collecting data, but this year, it seemed like there was a lot of buy-in across the majority of the volunteers that came to training.”

Johnson led sessions in June to train volunteers on bumblebee identification, which enabled them to submit accurately-labelled photographs of bees in the park to bumblebeewatch.org – described on the website as a “collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees.”

Volunteers participated in two sessions, according to Johnson. Johnson discussed pollinator conservation, the different types of bumblebees in Alberta and how to identify them during a two-hour classroom lesson, before giving volunteers hands-on training. At the park, participants learned how to catch bees in a net, safely transfer them into clear plastic vials and calm the bees by placing the vials in cooler packs before photographing and identifying them. Volunteers were also required to pass an extensive safety training to avoid stings and possible resulting allergic reactions.

According to Johnson, a minimum of 12 people attended each session, and more than 50 volunteers took part in both the classroom and hands-on training sessions.

Having completed the training, the citizen scientists were then free to explore the park – which is divided into four survey routes – throughout the summer to observe bumblebees.

“Volunteers would sign up in a minimum of pairs,” Johnson said. “They had to, at least, have a partner to go out with them for one week during the summer, and one particular survey route.”

During that week, Johnson said, the volunteers had to visit the park at least one day, in nice weather, to collect data on the bees they saw in that area. Johnson said she was excited to report that this year, volunteers observed two declining bumblebee species at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park – the Western bumblebee, which has been seen in past years, and the yellow-banded bumblebee, which she said had previously not been observed in the park.

Johnson highlighted the importance of the program – in conservation, she said, it can be challenging for scientists to collect baseline data. This program allows volunteers to serve as additional eyes, gathering data to help scientists monitor bee populations and track changes over time, according to Johnson, as well as identify species that may be in decline.

“There are quite a number of pollinator scientists, but definitely not enough to cover all of the ground across Canada, across Alberta, even within the greater Calgary area,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of the data, and having citizen scientists go out and help us collect all of this information is really valuable.”

Although Johnson no longer serves as Alberta’s lead biologist with the Native Pollinator Initiative at Wildlife Preservation Canada, she said she was pleased with the success of this year’s program and added it will likely continue running at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park into the future.

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