Pollinator Series: Monitoring Bees in your Backyard (4)

Pollinator Series: Monitoring Bees in your Backyard (4)

By Fiona Smeaton

In this section of the mini-series on encouraging native pollinators, I want to share more about my master’s work and the strategies I used to monitor urban sites for pollinator activity. (See my previous posts herehere, and here). I hope that you, the gardener, will find these strategies helpful in your own urban oasis! I partnered with the city to complete this work and monitored pollinators on land managed by the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). My community partner and I were interested in a few core questions. What insect pollinators were visiting these sites and what floral resources were they utilizing? Additionally, I evaluated how the size of the site as well as nesting resources might affect the number of observed native bees. 

I decided to use a protocol developed by The Xerces Society. (https://xerces.org/publications/id-monitoring/maritime-northwest-citizen-science-monitoring) This protocol was created for citizen scientists, which meant that I and my volunteers could use it without having extensive entomology training. To perform this protocol, I set linear transects, running a 100-meter-long tape measure through the portion of my site I wanted to observe insect activity. In total I set 10 transects across Portland that I visited twice a month throughout the summer of 2019. This protocol recommends monitoring on clear days with low wind speeds and when temperatures are above 60 degrees, so I timed my visits based off the weather. When I got to these sites and with help from my wonderful volunteers, we would walk this transect as a slow but steady pace and record any insect pollinators that we could see. Observations were only counted when insects landed on a flower so that they were actively pollinating. This protocol is great because it allows you to group related species based off their general appearance. These categories are called morphogroups.

There are 10 bee morphogroups and they are grouped together by their body size, color, markings or hairiness. For my study, since I was most interested in bees, I only included four non-bee morphogroups: butterfly, fly, wasp and other. Other could include spiders, beetles, ants or any other insect as long as it was observed visiting a flower. While you won’t be able to identify insects to species using this protocol, it is still an effective tool at classifying the general diversity of insects visiting a site and allows for floral data which was one of my initial goals. 

I encourage you to practice this monitoring protocol in your garden! See how many morphogroups are visiting your yard and take note of which flowers they are utilizing. Join us next week to learn what you can do with these results and how they can shape decisions you make in your garden!

About Fiona:

I have always been passionate about connections between species in the natural world, I love to learn about organisms that have coevolved and formed mutually beneficial relationships. That is what first drew my attention to insect pollinators. I think that it is fascinating that these tiny creatures can play such a keystone role in an ecosystem. There would not be the incredible diversity of plants we know today without these insects. However, pollinators are currently facing a multitude of threats caused by humans' destructive practices on the modern landscape. Urban environments, while very disturbed and fragmented can provide valuable habitat for native pollinators. My Master’s program allowed me to investigate eight urban sites across Portland OR to find out which insect pollinators were observed in the summer of 2019 and which flowers they were visiting. My work was directed at urban land managers in Portland in order to help them strategize ways to create pollinator habitat around us. Now I want to share this information with the Cornell Farm community! This blog mini-series is meant to share my experiences monitoring insect pollinators and strategies I have learned in order to better understand how we can support these incredible species within our city.