Populations of bees and other pollinators have been in trouble in recent years, with scientists speculating that habitat loss may be a key reason. San Francisco State University biologist Gretchen LeBuhn has been studying habitat fragmentation, which occurs when buildings, highways and other features of the urban landscape disrupt bees’ habitats such that bees “often cannot find the resources they need to survive or are limited in their mobility,” according to Science Daily.
To get a better sense of the population and ecosystems of bees and other pollinators, LeBuhn launched The Great Sunflower Project in 2008. Nearly 100,000 volunteers counted the bees they found in their garden or yard annually in two 15-minute observations per month. They then reported the data on LeBuhn’s website.
Science Daily sums up the results:
Analyzing observations from 12,000 gardens, LeBuhn has found that urban areas have much fewer visits from bees than other habitats. Volunteers in urban gardens reported finding an average of 23.3 bees per hour, compared to 30.4 per hour in rural areas and 31.6 in forests and wildlands. Volunteers in desert areas reported an average of 31.9 bees per hour.
This year, starting on August 11, LeBuhn and her team of researchers are planning to start The Backyard Bee Count and asking people to count bees in their yards and gardens. In particular, they are looking for data from areas where bee populations are healthy, to see if there is a “tipping point” at which urbanization can fragment” bee populations enough, to the point of causing decline. LeBuhn also wants to focus the count on desert areas where the diversity of bees is high.
The data from LeBuhn’s earlier project revealed that, across the US, bee sightings can range from zero to more than 30 bees per hour, depending on the size of gardens. The largest gardens were found to have the most bee visits, between 30 and 40 per hour on average, while smaller gardens had an average of 25 bees. Just having pots with flowers on your patio meant an average of 13 bee sightings per hour. In a surprising finding, urban community gardens had an average of 41.9 sightings per hour.
LeBuhn’s website explains which plants are bee-friendly (Sunflowers (preferably, Lemon Queen), Bee balm, Cosmos, Tickseed or Purple coneflower) if you’d like to invite bees into your yard and take part in the Great Backyard Bee Count.
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